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Retiring House Press Gallery Superintendent Jerry Gallegos joined the gallery in 1969, just as tumultuous times in the United States were dramatically shaking the foundation of political journalism.
For 44 years, Gallegos has been at the crux of the complex relationship between the press and politicians — chaperoning the gallery, enforcing codes of conduct for journalists and, as necessary, keeping the doors open to reporters when House leaders would rather have them closed.
“One memory I have, which I have great respect for him for, was when Republicans were on the floor of the House and Nancy Pelosi tried to end the session, but Jerry kept the doors open and allowed the media to watch the Republicans give their speeches, even though the Democrats didn’t really want any coverage of that,” recalled House Periodical Press Gallery Director Rob Zatkowski.
During the summer 2008 spectacle, Democrats adjourned for the August recess, briefly killing the lights and microphones over Republican opposition. Despite a request from then-Speaker Pelosi’s office, Gallegos would not close the doors, Zatkowski said.
“I don’t know if all the people up here wouldn’t have folded,” Zatkowski said. “He was doing his job and doing it the right way.”
David Lightman, a national political correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers and a veteran reporter, found Gallegos to be friendly, well-informed and helpful when he arrived on Capitol Hill in 1979.
“Since then, he’s made the professional lives of me, and my colleagues, so much easier, fighting for access in the halls of the Capitol and at political conventions, fighting to get computers into the House, and most of all, standing up for us as a strong advocate,” said Lightman, who is chairman of the daily galleries’ standing committee of correspondents. “We’re gonna miss him.”
Gallegos’ retirement takes effect Aug. 6. He has served as the superintendent since 1997, guiding the press gallery through the shooting of two Capitol Police officers in 1998 and the 9/11 attacks.
Deputy House Press Gallery Director Justin Supon, who joined the press gallery staff in 1998, remembers that day well. While watching television coverage of the World Trade Center attacks with Supon, Gallegos leaned out the window and announced, “Hey, there’s smoke coming out of the Pentagon.”
“He literally just looked out from his office window, across the Rayburn Building, across the river and saw the Pentagon on fire,” Supon said, referring to the crash of American Airlines Flight 77. “You have never seen a man drag people out of here as quick as he did on that day.”
After the building was evacuated, Gallegos returned to the gallery to make sure reporters’ computers were turned off and secure.