The real Tom Gallagher

His history is one of wild parties and self-enrichment.

I have many fond memories of Tom Gallagher, who has held just about every state office except governor. He's now seeking that post as a warm and fuzzy "family values" candidate.

That doesn't really match my memories. For example, in the 1970s, I worked for the Miami Herald, left the paper to work in Atlanta for a couple of years, and then returned to the Herald in 1979. I'd covered Gallagher earlier in the decade — even liked him as one of two Republican novelty acts in the otherwise solid Democrat Dade delegation.

Shortly after hitting town, I began the ritual of visiting my favorite bars in Coconut Grove and Coral Gables. At one tavern, I was surprised when Gallagher came up to me, slapped me on my back and roared how great it was to see me. He had obviously been there for some time, doing what one does at bars.

Gallagher then proceeded to tell me, in great detail, of his recent escapades with women. He'd broken up with his first wife, and his Grove home was party central. Gallagher's stories were disturbing — not that I'm a prude, God forbid.

After Gallagher made several references to adventures he implied I was knowledgeable about, but which I couldn't possibly have been, I asked: "Tom, who do you think I am?" He replied: "Huh? You're my accountant."

"Uh, no, Tom," I said, sharpening the mental knives for a column, "I'm John Sugg with the Miami Herald, and I'd sure as hell like to hear more about these exploits for the entertainment of our readers." He fled.

A few years later, I was sitting on my sailboat at the Big Game Club in Bimini. I had a wonderful scenic view — at least until a huge powerboat pulled in next to me. Standing at the rail of the floating beast was none other than Gallagher, flanked by the guys who owned the boat. I knew them well, two powerful Tallahassee lobbyists. I was also intrigued by the rest of the boat's guests — all female.

But, heck, we've all had our wilder younger days. Cut to the modern day governor's candidate; Gallagher has been polishing his reputation for years, hoping a new wife and 7-year-old kid will dazzle voters and blind them to the past.

But even if Gallagher's morality has kicked up a few notches, there are many other blemishes that should give Floridians real reasons to worry. Here's one:

In 1981, I discovered a remarkable scheme by Gallagher and business associates that would have stuffed money in their pockets while jeopardizing the state pension fund.

This was at a time when the savings and loan industry was just starting to run up on the rocks, a disaster that would culminate a decade later in a massive federal bailout. The thrifts had billions of dollars in low-interest mortgages that they wanted to dump. That would enable them to make new loans at much higher interest rates.

But no one was stupid enough to want the old mortgages, often with interest rates as low as 1 or 2 percent. Gallagher was, at the time, a state legislator plotting his first run for governor. He wanted to do a few favors for folks who could do him a few favors — such as money-laden bankers.

Gallagher was a member of the state House committee that had oversight of pension programs. A scheme was devised to have the state pension fund purchase as much as $125 million in the unprofitable mortgages from state thrifts.

There are two cardinal rules for government pension funds: Don't make decisions based on politics, and don't make investments that can never be anything but losers. Gallagher's plan violated both of those rules.

It gets worse. Gallagher earned his living as a vice president of Ticor Mortgage Insurance. Can you guess which company planned to insure the mortgage scheme? You got it: Ticor. Gallagher's company would have pocketed an amount that was never disclosed — but certainly was many tens of thousands of dollars.

Articles I wrote about the proposed deal for the South Florida Business Journal resulted in the state balking. None of the top officials, including then-Gov. Bob Graham, had been aware of Gallagher's involvement through Ticor or the high risk and almost certain loss the state pension fund faced.

In January 1982, the deal collapsed. The pensions of state employees were protected. Gallagher denied any conflict of interest and groused that the plan was deep-sixed by Graham. "I have a strong feeling the governor is not interested in helping me out," Gallagher said at the time.

No, Graham was interested in protecting Floridians. Gallagher was obsessed with enriching himself.

Which is a good reason for Florida to reject Gallagher's gubernatorial ambitions — as the state has three times previously.

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