As the general election approaches, candidates in the Democratic primary this June are breathing easy. In a city that overwhelmingly skews to the left, victors in the primary are all but assured victory in the upcoming election.
That doesn’t mean, however, that candidates like Emily Gallagher, who defeated incumbent Assembly Member Joseph Lentol in a long drawn-out race, are resting on their laurels.
Greenpointers spoke with Gallagher to discuss her initial reaction after winning the primary, and to hear about her priorities once she assumes office in January.
The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
How does it feel to be done with the campaign? What were your thoughts after you beat Lentol?
It’s been an adjustment. I’ve been in a lot of disbelief for the first month. Since then, it’s sunken in a little bit more. I’m just really excited and happy that I get to do this. It’s been a dream of mine to really have the space to make an impact in a really clear-cut way, to have a seat at the table. I’m just so grateful that people are giving me this opportunity in the district.
What have been you doing since you won in late July and what do the next few months entail?
The first month was really chaotic because I was still in the court case. Since then, we’ve been having a lot of meetings with advocacy groups who want us to know more about their issues. We’ve been meeting with unions who want us to meet their members and to hear about their priorities. I’ve been connecting with other assembly members who are newcomers and bonding with the freshman class and working out together ways we can work together. I’ve also been introducing myself to established assembly members, and they’ve been introducing themselves to me.
For staffing, we get a set budget but we don’t get any kind of rules about how we hire, so I’ve been trying to figure out how we can best serve the district and figure out the ways we can build a staff that will really serve the most dynamic needs that we have.
What, if any, coordination between your office and Lentol’s office will there be?
I haven’t heard from Lentol’s office at all, which is kind of disappointing. I think there’ll be a transition in January. I’ve been talking to the speaker and everything, and I’ve been assured that it will go well. I’ve had some passing-by interactions, but I haven’t had any communication yet. I know it’s early, and I know that there’s an adjustment period that they are going through, and I want to give them the space that they need to do that.
Is communication between the incoming office and outgoing office of the Assembly Members common?
Yeah, it is. I’ve heard from some of the other freshmen that they’ve been invited over and even given resumes of staffers and talked about the bills that are up.
But that hasn’t happened between you and Lentol?
How do you maintain that grassroots flavor that characterized your campaign throughout the next two years and beyond, assuming you run again for office?
I think a big part of why I ran and one of the core ideas of my campaign is this idea of transparency and really communicating what we were thinking about and what our reactions were to things, how different ideas impact the district and also really opening up to connecting with and hearing from the community on the temperature of the issues. One of the things I want to change in Albany is a real kind of top-down method of governing. I really want to see it be bottom-up. I see myself as the facilitator of that, not necessarily the author of it.
How will you do that?
I want to have regular town halls where I report on my thinking about hot topics and where I hear from my community about what I should be focusing on. [I] think that people deserve to know what the conversations are, deserve to know and truly understand what the state is in charge and what kind of power I can have over decisions and what power I don’t have. It’s a public office, so I think a lot of the contents and conversations should happen publicly.
I’ll try to pin you down on specifics. Rather than just saying we need transparency, are there any other ideas you have, in addition to town halls?
Some of the newer elected [officials], they’ll write or do a video about why they voted a certain way and what the impacts are and what they’re working on and really keep people up to date about what their priorities are. At the end of the day, it is the community’s seat and the community deserves to have more say.
[I would also like to make] the newsletters and communications not just about what’s happening in the district and what events you can attend, but also about what I’m thinking about, what I’m discussing, what are my big concerns and how I’m trying to address those.
What specific policies or proposals will you take when you assume office?
I’ve already been working for the Coalition for Budget Justice [a group of progressive elected officials and advocacy organizations that are collobarating on a budget for the upcoming year]. I’m really pushing the package to tax the extremely rich in the community. Not just in our community but in all of New York state. That has a lot of different pieces to it. There’s taxing stock buybacks. There’s taxing billionaires’ income. As we have seen with New Jersey where Phil Murphy, who is a former Goldman Sachs executive, he’s pushed it through. It’s not controversial to him. I don’t see why we shouldn’t be able to achieve that here.
I have my normal interest in transportation justice and environmental justice, but I think one of my emergency priorities would be small business preservation. I’m really concerned we’re going to have a lot of vacant storefronts, and it’s going to be an opportunity for predatory equity to happen. That’s how we’re going to end up having only chain drug stores on Manhattan Avenue and nothing else. Drug stores and banks. Our small local businesses are struggling to survive. Without them, we lose the character of our community.
This is the same question I had when we were talking about transparency. Have you hashed out any preliminary ideas about how to help small businesses in our district?
This is where the listening component is coming in. I’ve been talking to small business owners and have been hearing what is really concerning them and where they’re getting tripped up. From that information and from talking to experts in the field of business preservation and real estate, I will start to develop some ideas from there. So I don’t have any in the hopper yet. I think it’s important to be really careful when we introduce these things, because there can be a lot of consequences that we don’t necessarily foresee, if we don’t do all the research first.
What would you like to say to your future constituents?
I’m happy to hear from people. They can contact me on social media or email me. I also want to remind people that I’m not in office until Jan. 1. Any kind of constituent services, I’m happy to help as much as I can, but if you want the power of the state, they should turn either to Assembly Member Lentol or to Senator Kavanaugh or Senator Salazar, who just have a little more resources available to them at this point.