Jan 6, 2023
New Yorkers Regret Voting for George Santos: ‘We Feel Betrayed’
(Bloomberg) -- Duped donors. Embarrassed voters. Angry neighbors.
Such was the mood at delis, barbershops and train platforms across Long Island as Republican George Santos went to Washington to represent a gilded enclave of New York still baffled by the man they voted in.
“We feel betrayed,” said Republican Lawrence Ripak, 79, of revelations Santos fabricated significant details about his education, career and religion.
The retired aerospace executive, one of more than 100 people Bloomberg News reached out to about Santos, donated nearly $5,000 to the Congressman-elect over the last two elections. He voted for Santos in 2020, but because of redistricting wasn’t eligible to vote for him in 2022. Still, Santos kept in touch and Ripak and his wife kept giving money.
“We had this long conversation about his ancestry,” including now-debunked claims of Ukrainian Jewish heritage. “I guess that’s part of the smokescreen.”
Santos hasn’t been sworn in, due to infighting among Republican House members, who haven’t elected a speaker. But Santos has moved into a Capitol Hill office and said he doesn’t plan to resign. There is little New Yorkers — many of whom say they don’t want him in office — can do to prevent him from taking office.
Read More: Santos Sits Alone as Resignation Calls Mount Over His Lies
Hundreds of New Yorkers gave money to Santos’s campaign, including well-known wealthy donors like Anthony Scaramucci, Len Blavatnik and John Catsimatidis.
Scaramucci, the Skybridge Capital founder who lives in Manhasset, said he met Santos once at an event in Southampton for another Congressional candidate. “Michelle [Bond] asked me to help him out so I wrote him a check,” he said in an email. “Didn’t really know all the intrigue at that moment.”
Blavatnik didn’t respond to a request for comment though his company, Access Industries Holdings.
Catsimatidis said he was invited by his daughter, Manhattan Republican Party Chairwoman Andrea Catsimatidis, to a fund-raiser for Santos and would-be House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
“And what dad do you know who can say no to his daughter?” he said. “So I showed up for breakfast, shook a few hands, gave Kevin McCarthy a hug, and left a check for $2,900. I didn’t even stay for the whole breakfast. I did my duty.”
Catsimatidis, whose Red Apple Media includes New York talk radio station WABC, said both political parties and the media didn’t do their job vetting Santos.
“He lied about everything,” Catsimatidis said. “‘Tell me what you want me to be and I’ll be it.’ That’s what part of his strategy was.”
Donors described a charismatic and ambitious politician who seemed to say all the right things.
“I regret giving the guy money. I never even asked about the guy’s credentials, because he spoke intelligently,” said Republican Dan Martin, a former Marine and accountant who gave $250 and ran unsuccessfully for Babylon Town Supervisor.
One local news organization, the North Shore Leader, had raised questions about Santos in a September editorial that said “for a man of such alleged wealth, campaign records show that Santos and his husband live in a rented apartment.” But the concerns gained little traction as Santos garnered more than 145,000 votes for New York’s 3rd Congressional District.
During a break from a two-hour Great Neck Village board of trustees meeting — at which they debated issues like whether an alleged plot to hold a neighbor’s cat hostage was a building code violation — Mayor Pedram Bral said voters often forgo research on individual candidates and vote along party lines.
“I don’t think people today necessarily vote for the person. Unfortunately, they vote for the party,” said Bral, who is a Republican but serves in a non-partisan village office.
Bral, who voted for Santos, said the Congressman-elect had made a “grave mistake” and that “he didn’t have to lie about anything. He could have gotten it without lying.” Now, Bral said it was up to district attorneys who are investigating whether Santos committed fraud.
Any investigation could take months. Even if he were convicted of a crime, he wouldn’t necessarily be compelled to step down. The House Ethics Committee can pursue an inquiry once he’s sworn in, but expulsions are rare, according to Blake Chisam, an ethics lawyer and former staff director for the committee.
If Santos resigns, New York Governor Kathy Hochul would call a special election to fill the seat. Otherwise, voters won’t get a chance to unseat him until 2024.
“There’s nothing anybody can do to stop it,” said Scott Zubrow, 50, as he walked his Australian Shepherd/Poodle mix, Taz, along a stretch of million-dollar homes in Port Washington.
Zubrow didn’t vote for Santos, but said his misrepresentations over religion and his mother’s death from 9/11 were egregious. “That’s not something you lie about. It’s just pathetic,” he said.
‘Let It Go’
Around the corner, Daniel’s Barber Shop has a rule against talking politics — but 74-year-old financial planner Edward Cohen couldn’t help himself. He didn’t vote for Santos but said many of his neighbors did. “They were lied to. They believed him.”
Not everyone was as perturbed. Republican Bill Burke, a 69-year-old retired Wall Street broker and investment banker, said Santos’s lies weren’t all that damning and that he’d vote for Santos again.
“You know, what are you going to do? He didn’t kill anybody,” he said while walking home with groceries across from the “Million-Dollar Deli” in Locust Valley, a secluded enclave along Long Island’s affluent Gold Coast. “Let it go.”
--With assistance from Sri Taylor.
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.
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