Tuesday Talk*: Sitting Next To Santos

My old Congressman, Tommy Suozzi, has an interesting op-ed about his replacement in the House as representative of the New York 3d District. Tommy says it pains him to see a con man sitting in his seat. Of course, it may not happen if there is no speaker elected, but that’s another problem. Assuming the new class gets sworn in today, it will include Santos, despite his stunning array of lies and potential campaign finance crimes

Assuming George Santos, if that really is his name, will get sworn in today provided a speaker is elected, there’s nothing to be done to stop it. As we learned when they tried to keep Adam Clayton Powell Jr. out, as long as someone qualifies constitutionally and was elected, he gets to sit. That he got there because of lies does not disqualify anyone from being in Congress.

But there remains a problem, one that appears from the bowels of Suozzi’s op-ed talking about his beating Santos in 2020 by 12 points.

Even before Mr. Santos’s lies were exposed in the media, he showed himself to be an avatar of this age of no-consequences impunity. He ran against me in 2020: It was the middle of the Covid pandemic, he did not live in the district, and no one had heard of him. He had little in campaign funds, and during our few joint campaign appearances, all virtual, he came across as a phony. I ignored him, hardly mentioned his name and beat him by 12 points.

A 12-point beating is usually considered a whupping. But here, we have a former County Executive, a two-term congressman, running against a complete unknown, a nobody, a space filler. And the loser got 44% of the vote against this guy who should have taken 97% of the vote, but only got 56%. As Tommy said, he ignored him and won. Perhaps if he hadn’t been ignored, he wouldn’t have run, and won, this time.

As a constituent of NY 3, I certainly don’t want Santos to be my congressman (not that I did before, but I digress).

It’s not as if candidates for office didn’t lie before, embellish their records, make up a detail here and there to come off better, garner sympathy, run faster and jump higher. But the magnitude and scope has changed. Perhaps in the past, the expectation was that no one would be as shameless as George Santos to essentially fabricate his entire existence, Trump excepted. Those days are apparently gone.

Whose job is it going forward to vet a candidate for the accuracy of his information? Does the burden fall on the opposing candidate to do the requisite colonoscopy, verify college degrees, jobs, even the date of his mother’s death? Opposition research is unsavory and expensive, and congressional campaigns are generally not flush with extra cash.

Is it the media’s job to comb through candidates’ resumes to make sure they’re legit, and to let the voters know whether the guy in the hipster glasses is the real deal? If so, is the media up to the task? Can they be trusted to call a candidate a liar even if it’s the guy from their tribe?

Does the duty belong to the voter to make sure he or she isn’t voting for a “con man,” Is it left to voters to contact Busy Bee Nursery School to verify attendance?

Now that the age of utter shamelessness is upon us, and but for my new local paper, the Oyster Bay Herald, revealing that Santos might not be who he said he was, and the New York Times picking up on the story to turn a hyperlocal story into a national headline, how do we stop the next liar from getting elected? Unless Santos chooses to resign, he will be sworn in and will be seated. How do we prevent this from happening, or worse yet, becoming the norm?

*Tuesday Talk rules apply.