He lumbers into the room, rumpled and unpolished. He finds a seat on the stage and stares around at his rivals, not trying to intimidate, but not making anyone feel comfortable, either.
He brings no entourage, no hired consultant, no klatch of loyal volunteers to this forum. He has no campaign literature or yard signs to distribute.
Then the questions begin, and soon you realize: This guy could, really could, become Colorado Springs' first strong mayor in a few months.
And if Tom Gallagher's eight opponents haven't grasped that, it's time for a dose of reality. He could win it all.
Political science experts wouldn't give him a chance. His campaign defies accepted logic: He has spent $201.91 for a single campaign banner. He reported $3,650 a month ago in contributions from six donors, and exactly zero in his most recent report.
Yet he's still everyone else's worst nightmare. Because, in this short campaign, he has something the others' money can't buy: Thousands of people in Colorado Springs already have voted for Gallagher. At least twice.
He ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 1997 and 2001, then sought an at-large seat in 2003 (11 were pursuing four spots) and was the top vote-getter with 35,594 — nearly 3,000 more than current mayoral candidate Richard Skorman, with Randy Purvis and Larry Small further back. In 2007, Gallagher ran for a second term and again was among the four winners, though this time Jan Martin nudged him for the most votes.
Now, the 49-year-old Gallagher is counting on that familiarity factor, and those previous two outcomes, in his quest to become mayor.
He has other factors working for him. At public forums like this one hosted by the Organization of Westside Neighbors, other candidates often meander through responses; Gallagher fires away relentlessly from an arsenal of facts, experiences and laser-like observations.
For instance, he doesn't just say the city should keep Memorial Hospital. He suggests Memorial's unused floors in its new towers should house a world-renowned sports medicine mecca, allied with the neighboring U.S. Olympic Complex. He doesn't simply support infill development; he makes the point that "the secret to better city services is density."
In a recent conversation, he didn't label Council's future role uncertain, instead offering this: "My first policy directive," he said, "would be that any Council member can ask any question to any staff at any time and expect an answer. We're electing a mayor, not a king."
Check his website (electtomg.com), and you won't find a single endorsement, not another name of anyone backing Gallagher. But he does have his responses to various pre-election surveys, with insightful comments such as these:
• "This town has to believe in itself again. This is ... the first time in its history that it has given in to defeatism, fear, and pandering. Our community is being crushed under the thumb of a toxic culture of can't. Colorado Springs thrives when it is free to be itself."
• "Allowing the reserve fund to drop to a 12-day level and not informing the City Council of the precarious financial position of the City was a judgment call made by the previous City Manager. It was a bad call. Today the City has roughly 60 days of operating reserves and that number needs to be around 180 days."
• "I plan to spend as little as possible because ... the suspicion that the strong mayor effort was simply a ploy to allow elections to be bought does exist."
Sure, he hasn't been diplomatic in his eight years on Council, often chastising city staff. But that behavior has endeared him to those who might vote for him again. And in public, he connects with people.
He's come this far selling himself as a normal guy with everyday problems, like trying to find a job. On his filing form, in fact, the only current income he lists is serving on City Council — $6,250 a year. So while his opponents live comfortably, for Gallagher this is a fight for a meaningful paycheck, which helps make his passion so real. And the word is that one candidate's poll has him in the top two, with ballots going out soon.
In other words, don't be surprised if Tom Gallagher makes it into a runoff. And if that happens, who knows?