Death Claims Mike Gallagher, High Desert Developer, Would-Be Supervisor

Mike Gallagher, one of the more successful developers in the High Desert for well over three decades, a major contributor to political candidates and a would-be office holder himself whose foray into politics ended disastrously, has died.
Friendly and earnest, Gallagher built homes in the county area that would later be incorporated to become the City of Hesperia. Gallagher took pride in constructing high-quality single family homes. He later moved into the arena of commercial projects. Perhaps his most intensive mark on the landscape is the development  near the confluence of Ranchero Road and Interstate 15, including that within the Hesperia City Limits and in the unincorporated area of Oak Hills. While most builders working in the High Desert sought to construct homes that were more affordable as a consequence of the lower land prices in the desert and Gallagher took advantage of the low land acquisition costs the High Desert provided, he did not hesitate to experiment with building high end custom homes on large lots that sold for prices approaching $1 million, a first in the High Desert. That bold move redounded not only to his benefit but that of many of the homeowners in the area who saw an escalation in their home equity.
Gallagher was an unabashed advocate of pro-growth politicians at both the city and county level in San Bernardino County’s High Desert. In 1992, when a sufficiently aggressive advocate for the development community failed to emerge to challenge then-incumbent First District supervisor Marsha Turoci, Gallagher allowed himself to be talked into throwing his hat into the ring. He put on a spirited campaign which was largely self-funded. Along the way he paid a woman, Victorville printing business owner Jan Early, to provide his campaign with signs, brochures, door hangers and flyers and mailers.
The team that materialized around Gallagher that year had little experience and even less expertise in running political campaigns. Despite that, Gallagher made a strong showing, almost preventing Turoci from gathering the needed majority vote in the June primary to force a runoff. As it turned out, those challenging Turoci fell just short, gathering collectively 24,208 votes to Turcoci’s 24,358. Gallagher garnered 17,197 votes or roughly 35 percent; Richard D. Hall polled 4,411 or 9 percent and Paul Sheriff, Jr. claimed 2,600 votes or roughly 5 percent. Thus Turoci claimed 50.1544 percent of the vote, narrowly avoiding a showdown against Gallagher that November.
Gallagher moved back into private life, continuing to build, albeit at a less feverish pace as a consequence of the 1992 recession. A whole year went by and then in March 1994, seemingly from out of nowhere and with Turoci in ascendancy and moving toward becoming the chairwoman of the board of supervisors, Gallagher was blindsided when then-district attorney Dennis Kottmeier charged Gallagher and Early with campaign fund laundering.
On May 29, 1992, just a few days before the primary election, Gallagher wrote two checks totaling $10,758.25 to Early.
Early, donated $10,000 to the Non-Partisan Public Policy Advocates of Tustin, an arm of Ellis/Hart Associates, Inc., a political consulting firm that had done work on the Gallagher campaign.
The district attorney’s office alleged that this constituted an effort by Gallagher, who was then 44, to launder the money that had originated with himself through Early, which was then passed on to Non-Partisan Public Policy Advocates, then Ellis/Hart Associates and finally to his own campaign.
Gallagher, having lost his stomach for being a political candidate himself, rather than allowing his political associates and friends to suffer over the matter or squandering a significant amount of money on mounting a defense, pleaded out to a reduced charge.
But he immediately returned to being a campaign bankroller rather than a candidate, doing so with a vengeance. Later that year, money Gallagher put up for Dennis Stout in his challenge of Kottmeier for district attorney convinced Kottmeier to not seek reelection. In 1996, with substantial monetary assistance from Gallagher, then-Apple Valley Mayor Kathy Davis challenged and defeated Turoci. One of the issues used against Turoci in that election was the manner in which what many considered to be a below-the-belt prosecution of Gallagher had been orchestrated by Kottmeier, one of Turoci’s political allies.
Throughout the remainder of his life, Gallagher continued to be a major political campaign donor, particularly in those city and county races in the arena within which his development efforts took place. Gallagher threw himself into the development trade and was particularly active and influential in and around Hesperia.
Gallagher died a week ago, felled by a massive heart attack. He had multiple projects in the works at the time of his death.
A devout Catholic, Gallagher is survived by his wife and two children. His passing deprives him of seeing the completion of the Ranchero Road Interchange, a project furthered and made necessary by his development activity in that district.

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