Gallagher bows out of campaign
Health problems have forced incumbent Michael Gallagher, 58, from seeking another term as Eagle County Commissioner.Gallagher, a 58-year-old Democrat who lives in Minturn, has developed a mysterious nerve disease stemming from exposure to the toxic defoliant Agent Orange while in the Army in Vietnam 34 years ago. He has missed seven county board of commissioners meetings since March and will not run for re-election in November. The decision was clearly heart-wrenching for Gallagher, who’s an ordained deacon with the Catholic church as well as a man who clearly loves being commissioner and, as he says, “helping people.” He has been the police chief, fire chief and mayor of Minturn. “It hurts,” he said Thursday afternoon as he made the rounds with his announcement. “But the people deserve better. I (still) had a real strong desire to continue.”In a letter to county residents in today’s paper, Gallagher outlined his reasons. “I have spent the last few weeks at the Mayo Clinic seeking advice of their medical experts for diagnosis and treatment. Unfortunately I return with more questions than answers. “The disease cycles; during ‘good’ times I can work fully while during the ‘not good’ times I must limit my activities and availability to only the most important meetings and for only a few hours a day,” he writes. “This is at least a full-time job and I believe that you deserve better from those you have trusted to work for you.” The intermittent symptoms have weakened his muscles, put him on a range of medications and have forced him to wear an eye-patch over his right eye because the neuropathy he suffers from causes double-vision. With the eye patch he is still able to drive. His health has been a continuing struggle over the last two decades, and some of the symptoms and health problems he has experienced are consistent with the panoply of problems other Agent Orange victims have developed. Earlier this year he was in Cleveland at a cardiac clinic.Always servingThe announcement quickly rippled through the county administration building in Eagle and elsewhere, and the comments were predictable.”I really was sad,” said County Administrator Jack Ingstad. “Nobody likes his job better than he does and nobody spends more time and does a better job than he does.”Even when he’s sick, he’s such a dedicated, hard worker for the job,” Ingstad added. “I don’t think he gets the media attention because he doesn’t seek it. People don’t know all the things he’s accomplished here.”For most of his life, Gallagher said, he has been serving people, and anyone who knows him speaks freely of his compassion.”I’ve been a cop, firefighter, medic, councilman, mayor and a soldier,” he said. “Being commissioner is just a continuation of what I’ve done all my life.”He attributed his drive to serve to a higher power.”He,” said Gallagher with a glance skyward, “just uses me. He’s dragged me kicking and screaming from one job to the next all my life.”Gallagher was appointed commissioner to fill 10 months of James Johnson’s un-expired term four years ago when Johnson moved to Kentucky. He then was elected as representative for the district that runs from Vail to Edwards, mostly along the south side of the Eagle River. During his tenure he has cast many a swing vote on the oft-times highly partisan commission.Avoid partisanshipIn his letter, he cautioned voters in the next election about how partisanship can skew a representative position.”I have, and always will, hold the good of the people of Eagle County as the highest goal of any decision I make as your commissioner,” he said. “The good of the people is much more important than self, popularity, or political correctness or even political party. I encourage you to examine all of the candidates with this in mind.” Gallagher didn’t take credit for any accomplishments. That’s not his style. He’s made a habit of flying beneath news media radar screens and getting things done outside the glare of publicity.”It’s neat how much you can accomplish if you don’t keep score,” he said. One of those accomplishments, according to Ingstad, is inspiring better relationships between the county’s cops, firefighters and paramedics. He’s got seven months remaining in his term and, he said, wants to see completed a number of projects, including upgrading the airport’s instrument landing technology; helping create a better day-care system; building more employee or affordable housing; and enhancing public safety operations.Toxic legacyGallagher isn’t bitter about his health trials.”It doesn’t do any good to do that,” he says. (But) It sure wouldn’t hurt for the federal government to admit that Agent Orange is the cause.”Gallagher and thousands of other Vietnam veterans who have been exposed to the defoliant are seeking to have their sizable medical expenses covered by the government – something it so far has refused to do.”The real heartbreak of Agent Orange – and I went into (Vietnam) with my eyes wide open and did my thing for the country – but I never promised them my children,” he said.The first of the five sons Gallagher has had with his wife, Lorene, was stillborn. And there have been other birth defects, too, he said.What his future holds, isn’t clear.”I’ll keep searching for answers and working on getting fixed,” he said.He said he’s not sure where he’ll end up, but with a glance skyward, he indicated things will work out. His immediate future will likely include some more trips to the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minn. where he will seek to improve his health.”I thank you for your love of Eagle County along with your continued prayers and support for my recovery,” he said.Despite the pain of his announcement, Gallagher still flashed a little of his trademark sense of humor when asked about his eye patch.”It’s really fun to tell kids in a store, ‘It’s okay. Pirates have to go shopping too'”, he says.Two first-time candidates, Peter Runyon, a Democrat, and Richard De Clark, a Republican, are seeking Gallagher’s post.Cliff Thompson can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 949-0555 ext. 450.Read Commissioner Michael Gallagher’s letter announcing his decision not to run for re-election in the letters-to-the-editor section.