STAMFORD — John Zito racked up more than triple the number of votes Tuesday than he got in the last mayor’s race, but it was still just 7 percent of the total.

The unaffiliated candidate, who petitioned his way onto the ballot both times, said he had one thought the morning after Election Day: “I’m done.”

Then the phone started to ring. And ring. And ring. Supporters were calling to say, “You’re doing better,” “Don’t give up,” and “Get ‘em next time.”

He was tired, Zito said — after the polls closed Tuesday night he stayed up until 3 a.m. collecting most of the 625 campaign signs he’d placed around the city.

But the calls, texts and Facebook messages kept coming. Within a few hours, his thought reversed: “Maybe I’m not done.”

He hasn’t decided yet whether he will make another run for mayor in 2021, but he is buoyed by the encouragement from “regular people who feel like nobody listens to them,” Zito said Thursday, sitting at a small table in a Glenbrook coffee shop.

Minutes after Zito took a seat, a tall young man in a red hoodie proved his point, tapping Zito on the shoulder and offering his hand.

“Good luck, man,” he told Zito as they shook. “Keep fighting.”

Zito watched the young man walked away. “I get that every place I go,” he said.

Such instances stoke his belief that he can be mayor, Zito said. He believed it when he made his first run four years ago at age 49, and he believed it this year, even though he has never held elected office, was not endorsed by his Republican Party, raised only $5,000, and was excluded from a candidates’ debate.

He’s a Stamford native who was raised by relatives and friends after both his parents died when he was a teen. He has street smarts, not political smarts, Zito has said, and he’s a union guy, not a college guy — a onetime truck driver, construction worker and oil technician who now owns a heating and chimney service company, J. Zito Services.

His campaign slogan incorporated Stamford’s motto: “A working man for the ‘City that Works.’” There should be a place for people like him in politics, Zito said.

“People kept telling me they support me because I’m not a politician. Politicians make promises they don’t keep,” he said. “After people heard I didn’t get invited to that debate, I became more popular than ever. They feel like they’re left out of the system the same way I was left out.”

He has said that if he became mayor he would hire a good fiscal team, and his job would be to keep the focus on taxpayers. He has no experience in municipal finances, but he knows everything there is to know about the financial pressure on taxpayers and small businesses in Stamford, he said.

It’s why Matt Taylor, one of the owners of Atlas Metals on Poplar Street, was rooting for Zito.

“We’ve been trying to build a building here for two years, and we can’t get anything done. The city is holding us up,” Taylor said. “They say this is a flood zone so we can’t obtain a permit. There are all these problems with the building department, and I was hoping John could help change things.”

City Hall bureaucracy hurts small businesses, said Joe Cammarota, owner of Target Disposal Service in Stamford, and politicians don’t help. He met Mayor David Martin, who was re-elected Tuesday, when the Democrat was running in 2013, Cammarota said.

“He told me, ‘If you have a problem, give me a call,’ so I did, several times. He never called me back,” Cammarota said. “I supported John Zito because he’s in business himself, so he sees the problems like we do. He understands.”

Zito said he feels like he let his supporters down, but that he was let down, too. Only 27 percent of residents went to the polls on Election Day, meaning Martin won with about 11,000 votes in a city that has nearly 68,000 registered voters.

“Where were all those people? I’m disappointed that they were out there complaining but then they didn’t come out and vote,” Zito said. “I think we should have voting on Sundays or Saturdays, or give people Election Day off, like they do in Europe. This has to change.”

Cammarota said he thinks “people don’t vote because they’re disgusted.”

They see “corporations come in and get 20-year tax breaks — what do we get? Then the corporations are gone and we’re still here,” Cammarota said. “People are leaving Stamford because it’s getting too expensive. (Zito) wanted to see if he could fix that, but I don’t think he’ll get the chance.”

On his way to collect his campaign signs late Tuesday night, Zito called Stamford police. There had been several reports of signs being stolen just before the election, and he wanted to let police know what he was doing, he said.

It had been a long, disappointing Election Day, so why did he go out in his pickup truck before sunrise on that damp, chilly morning?

“The metal in the signs is sharp — kids could get hurt. And the signs end up in the streets and make a mess,” Zito said. “I can’t use them again because they say 2017, but I can recycle them.”

There’s another reason, he said.

“I lived in Colorado for a little while, but I couldn’t wait to get back to Stamford. It’s home,” he said. “I hate to hear people say they have to leave Stamford because they can’t afford it. It’s a shame.”

acarella@stamfordadvocate.com.