Mike Gallagher sits back in a sleek black chair, imagining what the future could be. Just outside his office on Fifth Avenue and 118th Street lies a large room with orange walls, modern furniture and Harlem residents typing passionately at interweaving desks.
These are not workers for Mr. Gallagher’s campaign, but local residents, each of whom shares office space at $20 a day with a congressional hopeful they hardly know. But that has not swayed Mr. Gallagher, one of two white candidates in the race for New York’s 13th Congressional District. He has the least experience as a politician, though he is not ashamed of that.
“Last year, I said to myself that I’m not going to sit on the couch and have the winner of this race win by 20,000 when I could’ve, should’ve or would’ve won,” he said. “I’m trying to represent the people that feel the game is rigged against regular people.”
- Name: Mike Gallagher
- Age: 51
- Home Neighborhood: Washington Heights
- Party Affiliation: Democrat
- Current Office/Job: Stay-at-home father
For the past year, Mr. Gallagher, a stay-at-home father of four, has worked his way onto the ballot by taking a leap of faith in a region where African-Americans and Latinos account for a majority of the population, according to 2014 U.S Census Bureau figures. Mr. Gallagher, who entered politics only last year, is set to face off against several of Albany and Washington’s political heavyweights in a longshot fight.
Combing back a handful of his black hair, Mr. Gallagher said he prides himself on his humble beginnings. Born to educated Irish Catholic immigrants, he said school was always the first priority in his household.
Mr. Gallagher attended several public schools before landing at Harvard University. He graduated with a degree in history but said that politics was his calling.
“I started in government at Harvard,” he said. “I had a natural affinity for politics from the beginning.”
After graduating, Mr. Gallagher, a Brooklyn native and Washington Heights resident, volunteered for two politicians, Senator Frank R. Lautenberg and Representative Frank Pallone Jr., both Democrats from New Jersey. Mr. Gallagher said that his background (he was a bookseller and then a graphic artist) is a major selling point for his constituents, who he deems less concerned about race than character and policies.
“I’m not playing to the white crowd. I’m not playing to the black crowd,” Mr. Gallagher said.
But his name does not ring a bell for many Central Harlem residents, though the candidate has sworn to stand up for them.
For the past several weeks, Mr. Gallagher has visited East Harlem, an area known as “El Barrio,” because of its large Latino community.
“Everybody loves him there,” said Edwin Marcial, a staff member on Mr. Gallagher’s campaign. “Everyone there says they will vote for him.”
Mr. Marcial, 76, a Puerto Rico native, has a rich past in the neighborhood, having been an active community member for nearly six decades. And though he supports Mr. Gallagher, Mr. Marcial is also a “longtime friend” of Representative Charles B. Rangel, according to The New York Daily News.
With a shrewd smile covered by a thick, curled mustache, Mr. Marcial recalled meeting Mr. Gallagher at a Harlem debate.
“I thought Espaillat was the guy,” he said, referring to State Senator Adriano Espaillat. “Then I realized how arrogant he was.” When describing Mr. Gallagher and his initiatives within the community, Mr. Marcial’s eyes lit up.
“We’re doing the impossible,” he said.
Mr. Gallagher has assembled a diverse team of unpaid staff members, including two Latino men, two women and one black man. Each is enthusiastic but all are aware of the campaign challenges that lie ahead.
Like Mr. Marcial, Alicia Gelernt once thought another candidate would be more suited for the seat. Ms. Gelernt, 50, left her job as an entertainment publicist to help Mr. Gallagher full time. “If I didn’t believe he could win, I wouldn’t be doing this,” she said.
Ms. Gelernt became heavily involved in politics about eight years ago, after taking in an 11-year-old boy who she said was abused by an unfair judicial system. She was approached by an adviser to Mr. Gallagher and was inspired.
“He cares,” she said, twisting a small silver ring on her left pointer finger. “He genuinely cares.” As the thumb of her right hand circled the ring again, it revealed a word etched into its side: HOPE.
Correction: An earlier version of a picture caption with this article incorrectly stated the location of Mike Gallagher’s home. It is in Washington Heights, not Harlem.