National News

Cornelius Gallagher, 7-Term New Jersey Congressman, Dies at 97

Posted October 22, 2018 6:43 p.m. EDT

Cornelius E. Gallagher, a seven-term Democratic congressman from New Jersey and champion of civil liberties who was jettisoned from his seat by his own party in 1972 after his district was redrawn and he was charged with tax evasion, died Wednesday at his home in Monroe Township. He was 97.

The cause was brain cancer, his granddaughter Courtnay Stanford said.

Serving in the House of Representatives from 1959 through 1972, Gallagher was a strong supporter of privacy rights as the government grew more obsessed with secrecy and dependent on lie detectors and data gathering. He also introduced legislation on behalf of students who had treatable learning disabilities but were being written off as hopelessly uneducable.

An early advocate of Sen. John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential candidacy, he vigorously promoted bills to establish the Peace Corps and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and was the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson considered asking Gallagher to be his running mate before settling on Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota.

Gallagher was both self-made and a creation of the party machine.

When he was 10, he helped support the family after his father died. He later enlisted in the Army and then worked his way through law school at nights in a boatyard.

He was a progeny of the notorious Hudson County Democratic organization and its legacy of corruption — but one of its “finest products,” as the nonpartisan Almanac of American Politics put it at the time.

Still, while he was well-liked in Washington and immensely popular in his hometown, Bayonne, he, like so many other New Jersey politicians, wound up serving his last term in prison.

In 1968, Life magazine reported on wiretapped conversations suggesting that Gallagher had not only helped protect Mafia boss Joseph Zicarelli’s gambling operations from police interference, but he had also enlisted Zicarelli to get rid of the body of a loan shark who had died in Gallagher’s home.

Gallagher delivered an impassioned speech on the House floor denying the allegations. He blamed the FBI, saying it had leaked false information in part to retaliate against him for investigating allegations of federal invasion of privacy of ordinary citizens. Gallagher was re-elected in 1968 and 1970 anyway.

“The FBI repudiated the transcripts of the wiretaps,” Burton Hersh later wrote in “Bobby and J. Edgar: The Historic Face-Off Between the Kennedys and J. Edgar Hoover that Transformed America” (2007).

But in April 1972, Gallagher was indicted on charges of committing perjury, attempting to evade $102,000 in income taxes and conspiring with former Jersey City Mayor Thomas J. Whelan and others to hide kickbacks. After initially pleading not guilty, he admitted to tax evasion that December and served 17 months in prison. Thousands of constituents welcomed him home when he was released.

Cornelius Edward Gallagher, who was known as Neil, was born on March 2, 1921, in Bayonne to Cornelius and Ann (Murphy) Gallagher. He was 8 when his father, a detective, died. By 10 he was helping to supplement an $83-a-month police pension by working as a shoeshine boy and a soda jerk.

After graduating from Bayonne High School, he enrolled in Seton Hall College (now Seton Hall University) in New Jersey. But he interrupted his studies two months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 to enlist in the Army. He served in the infantry in Europe in World War II and rejoined the Army to serve in the Korean War. He was discharged as a captain with two Bronze Stars and three Purple Hearts.

Gallagher finished college in 1946 and graduated from John Marshall Law School in Newark (now part of Seton Hall).

He was elected to the Hudson County Board of Freeholders in 1953. The party organization supported him for Congress in 1958 against a Democratic incumbent, Alfred D. Sieminski, whom party leaders feared would be vulnerable that November.

But in 1972, with Gallagher under indictment and the district redrawn, Democratic leaders decided instead to endorse a neighboring incumbent, Rep. Dominick Daniels. Daniels won the primary; Gallagher ran third with 15 percent.

He was later a vice president of Baron/Canning International, a public relations firm in New York City.

A 1978 House Ethics Committee report concluded that in 1971 and 1972, Gallagher had intervened on behalf of Tongsun Park, a South Korean businessman whom the congressman had helped restore as a middleman for Korean purchases of American rice. Park gave Gallagher $74,000 in cash, according to the report, which found no violations of ethical or campaign financing rules.

In 1995, Gallagher pleaded guilty to tax fraud for failing to report $90,000 in profits from the sale of his villa in the Dominican Republic, and to bank fraud involving his help on behalf of a son-in-law who was seeking a loan. He was sentenced to 10 months in prison on both charges.

His wife, Claire Richter, died in 2004. He is survived by their daughters, Christine Forge, Patrice Maillet and Bridget Davis; 11 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren. Another daughter, Diane Brennan, died in 2013.