When Emily Gallagher won the race for state assembly member in New York’s 50th district, beating 47 year incumbent Joe Lentol, it was the end of a difficult, drawn out race. Gallagher subsequently ended up suing Governor Cuomo and the New York State Board of Elections for invalidating thousands of absentee ballots. Now that the dust has settled, and Gallagher has officially begun her term, Greenpointers spoke to the assembly member about her goals for the future, why she loves town halls, and Bertolt Brecht.
Now that you’ve been in your first legislation sessions and officially started your work as Assembly Member, what has it been like?
EG: Something that has been really thrilling for me is that I get to dedicate all my energy to this work. As a volunteer for the last 15 years, I was always doing multiple jobs on top of the work for the community, and it’s just feels really good to focus on the neighborhood, and on the state.
At the same time, everything is on Zoom, so it’s been kind of challenging to know the best way to participate in the bigger conversations. But, I feel like I’m developing strong relationships, and I’m looking forward to learning more.
On that note, what else are you looking forward to for your first months in office?
We’re going to be rolling out some workshops that I’m really looking forward to. One of the things that I really want for the district is for people to know how to access all the support that they need. A lot of our community-based organizations actually offer much more than we might even realize, like financial counseling, or workforce development. And these things are really necessary right now. I think that we can definitely utilize the expertise in the community in a way that brings more people in. These workshops are going to be led by community members and other experts that are city wide, like community service society and things like that.
What are some legislative priorities on your mind right now?
Revenue remains my biggest priority, and winning the fight to tax the kinds of wealth that have not previously been in the lexicon of what was available to the state. I think that would help us solve a lot of our problems. We really just need more money, and we need it come from people who can spare it.
That ties in really strongly to education equity and making sure our schools are funded equally and that schools and districts with high poverty have more resources to spend on their children. This is is a really big problem right now, especially with remote learning. This is going to be something that has lifelong impacts on these students. We cannot let that happen because we’re unwilling to ask people to pay their fair share.
When you spoke to Greenpointers in September, you mentioned you would speak to small business owners and start formulating ideas on how best to serve them while in office. How is that process going? Can you share some ideas that have come up?
A lot of of folks are just banging their head against the wall at this point, because there’s been so many shifts in policy that happened so quickly, especially with restaurants.
One of the things that’s been really hard hit is the personal services industries, like barber shops, healthcare and nail salons. Many of these are Black owned businesses or immigrant owned businesses. We really need to make sure that those businesses have the protections, first and foremost. I’m glad to see that the second round of money had some better restrictions on chains getting access, but I’m really interested in convening a committee to help advise me now that I’m on this State Committee for small business.
Why are townhalls so important to you?
It’s really important that I am transparent and accountable for the work that I’m promising. I think it’s really important for folks to know how these battles are going, truly, and to have a space where they can share their struggles. I need to be able to share anecdotes from my community to make persuasive arguments in session, and I think that’s a really important piece of the pie, something that I think is maybe the most important thing — to have a constant feedback loop.
It’s really important to just have that transparency. I think a lot of the distrust of government, and especially of political people, is that they’re just selling things for their own security and their own power, and that it actually doesn’t connect the rubber to the road. And that’s not my goal. I’m coming at this as someone who was a grassroots volunteer, remains active in grassroots communities and wants to make sure that I am truly a representative.
I really invite folks to just reach out. My door is totally open. I want to hear from people and have these conversations even if you just want to tell me what’s going on in your life and and how the government is impacting you, that is what I’m here for.
Can you talk about what being a socialist assembly member means and how that plays into your priorities?
For me, being a socialist means seeing the working class as a unified community and realizing that we don’t have to live a life of scarcity. We can actually shift the systems, so that we can all have abundant lives that are resourced, and are safe and thriving.
We all deserve to have lives that have joy and meaning and safety and health. And in a capitalist system, the focus is not on making sure that everybody has that, the focus is on accumulation for individuals. [Socialism] is a really humanistic view and I think if people learned more about it, I think they would be less scared of it.
There’s a lot of rhetoric spun that makes folks scared and think that they are going to end up with no choices. But the reality is that most people don’t have choices right now. And having a socialist system where we made sure that everybody had health care, where we made sure that everybody had fair opportunities to make a living and made sure everyone had housing – there would be a lot more choices for people in that kind of world.
And finally, can I ask you about Bertolt Brecht? You used his book to prop up your laptop on your first day in the legislature and I’d love to hear about why you like him.
Well, the book was a Christmas present last year from my partner. Brecht is one of my favorite poets. He combines a political voice with artistry, with beauty and compassion and humor.
The reason why it was on my desk was it’s the only book I have that’s big enough to prop up my laptop [laughs], but it’s also nice to feel like he’s there with me. I really carry that. I really carry a sense of my spiritual family being there with me all the time.