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New London - One morning last week, Andrew Lockwood waved a green postcard, an acknowledgment that a certified letter had been delivered. Here's proof, he said: Michelle Obama had received his letter.
After reading an opinion piece in which the first lady had urged the preservation of parks, Lockwood had written to tell her that New London has one such park worth saving. Voters will decide on Election Day whether to sell a portion of Riverside Park to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.
"I encouraged her, if you're in the New England area, please see the park before it's sold," Lockwood said.
It isn't the only long-shot idea for the man who knows - and repeats almost with pride - how he is the long-shot candidate for mayor in a field of six contenders.
"I'm unelectable," he said, a reference to an editorial in The Day in August that cast heavy skepticism on his chances.
Lockwood, a petitioning candidate for mayor, ran for City Council in 2009, finishing last out of 14 candidates. Last year he ran for state representative and lost to three-term incumbent Ernest Hewett by a 2-to-1 ratio.
Lockwood alternates between a narrative in which he has a groundswell of support and one in which he can't win. He claims that officials in a number of nearby towns have asked him to run for office in their communities.
"I've never given up on anything I believe in in my life, so I'm not gonna stop now," said Lockwood, a 51-year-old father of two grown children with two granddaughters he watches most weekday mornings. "I think I'm a much better candidate than I was in 2009."
When Lockwood said his wife, Loreen, told him he won't win if he doesn't raise any money, "I said, 'I know. I'm not gonna win because I tell the truth and they don't want to hear it. They want to hear you lie about everything that matters in their life, and that's all they care about.' … I learned a long time ago that it's better to tell the truth and get yelled at than have to lie about it and get caught in a trap later on."
Lockwood jokes that Loreen calls him a jack of all trades, master of none. By Lockwood's account, he has been a DJ, manager of a car dealership, substitute teacher, contractor, real-estate developer, motel owner and a landlord who won 296 landlord-tenant disputes before attending law school.
And indeed, a conversation with Lockwood zigzags and pinballs between topics and stories: how he dropped out of high school and made his way back; learned about the restaurant business from his father, a renowned chef in Vermont and then Connecticut; was homeless and lived out of his car for a time; spun records in local clubs and was so popular a local business asked him to wear its clothing when he worked; and found a long-lost brother who had dropped out of sight for 40 years (and who can see into the future).
It is for all these reasons, not to mention his legal troubles - back taxes, collections, foreclosure proceedings - that Lockwood says people relate to him. No matter what door he knocks on while campaigning, Lockwood said, the person can relate to some aspect of Lockwood's story.
"I think I really relate to all those voters - whether you're poor, living in the projects," he said. When he lost a job, he said, his wife had faith that he would find another because he can do "anything, anywhere."
Improving city's reputation
Lockwood said he has warned Superintendent of Schools Nicholas Fischer that, if elected mayor, Fischer would have one month to make changes or get out.
When asked how he describes himself to voters, Lockwood recalled the time he worked for the U.S. Census Bureau a couple of years ago and wound up leading a team of 20 people.
"My job here in the city of New London is going to be to make money for the city, move the city forward, put a good face on the outlook of New London," he said.
"We need to get rid of (the reputation that) we're the eminent domain capital of the world and our kids can't read," he added.
One of his money-making scenarios is to bring the HMS Bounty to New London. The ship, built for the movie "Mutiny on the Bounty," would generate $864,000 a year in revenue, he said.
Lockwood said things are too political in the city, so instead of getting support from the City Council for the idea he will go to businesses and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, although he has been unable to set up a meeting with the governor.
He said he was asked to go to Morocco and sail the ship to Spain, but he had to decline.
"I'm kind of one of these guys that is, I guess you could call it, a visionary," Lockwood said.
He has rehabbed a dozen or so foreclosed houses, he said, and has an eye for envisioning how the house will look when it is fixed up.
The same is true for New London.
"I think the next mayor has to promote New London, not only in Connecticut but the United States and worldwide," he said.
The city has been stagnant for too long, he said, and the long-shot candidate with a suitcase full of stories is just the one to shake things up.
"When the heat's turned on," he said, "I perform better."