When Michael Bloomberg visited the Flushing Mall the Saturday before Election Day, supporters crowded around him on stage, yelled wildly when he spoke, and encircled him and his security detail as they left.
Dennis Gallagher didn’t. The former city councilman, who resigned his seat last year after admitting he sexually assaulted a woman in his Middle Village campaign office, stood inside the doorway of the mall, smiled, then walked down the hallway back to work.
That’s where City Council candidate Peter Koo’s campaign office was located, and also where Gallagher has quietly toiled away for months.
Since resigning his seat, Gallagher has gotten an insurance license and a job at Fidelity National Title. He also sells old memorabilia online, and, with much less notice, works as a political consultant.
“I was a very active consultant who helped devise and implement the strategy from day one” said Gallagher in a telephone interview Monday evening.
Gallagher declined to name the consulting firm. Campaign finance records show Koo’s campaign made payments to consultants at one firm, J. Mac Associates.
The strategy for Koo, as Gallagher, described it, was to get as granular as possible, solidify the few Republican votes, and peel away Democrats disaffected by the contentious primary, which Yen Chou won with about 30 percent of the vote.
“I advised Peter Koo that the race could never be won if this was simply Democrats versus Republicans,” said Gallagher. “We had to show what he thought, how he felt, and how he lived his life.”
Koo “ran his campaign as an independent running on the Republican line, with strong Republican values and with some Democratic support. If we had come out with George Bush pieces of literature, we never would have won.”
The broader message in the Koo victory, as Gallagher sees it, is that the “Republican Party is a party that can reach out in new immigrant communities. The Republican party has failed to do that. New immigrants that share our core Republican values” and Koo’s victory “sends a signal that Republicans can get elected in overwhelmingly Democratic districts.”
And the message of beating the odds isn’t lost on Gallagher, whose own involvement in this race is one few could have predicted.
“In some instances, Peter encouraged me to be more out front, but I was the one who wanted a more behind-the-scenes role,” said Gallagher. “I certainly didn’t want to be an issue for him and his campaign.”
Gallagher announced in March 2008 that he was resigning his seat the following month, after pleading guilty to two misdemeanor counts of sexual abuse. A more serious rape charge against Gallagher was dismissed by the state supreme court on the grounds that the prosecutor unfairly prejudiced the grand jury.
Since that time, Gallagher has said he reconnected with his two children and grown a goatee. According to a friend, he’s also lost some weight. The former councilman said he’s enjoying life outside the public eye, but is looking to do more campaign work.
“One mistake in my life shouldn’t overtake over 20 years of government and political service,” said Gallagher. Before getting elected in 2001, Gallagher worked on several campaigns, including Bob Dole’s (presidential), George Pataki’s (gubernatorial), Serphin Maltese’s (a successful write-in candidacy for State Senate!), and, he says, he ran his own campaigns for Council.
“I felt happy I was able to contribute to this race,” he said, “and I can see myself continuing to run or manage a campaign.”
Which is welcome news, according to Jimmy Oddo, the current minority leader in the City Council.
“Obviously, Dennis has made mistakes in his life and he has paid a heavy price for them,” he said. “While people can question some of his decisions in his personal life in the past, they can never question his political acumen. He has a brilliant political mind.”
But as Republicans celebrated a surprise victory in Flushing, they also saw a stunning defeat in Gallagher’s old Middle Village district, once thought to be a Republican stronghold. Democrat Liz Crowley, who won narrowly won the seat in an election last year, fended off a challenge from Gallagher’s old boss and former Councilman Tom Ognibene. How did that happen? “The Ognibene-Crowley race was won by Elizabeth because of the amount of work she put into the race,” said Gallagher. “She clearly outworked Tom.”