When House Speaker Mike Johnson announced the results of the expulsion vote Friday morning at 11:00:20 (they keep very precise records) Con(gress)man George Santos became plain old regular con man George Santos, ending what we hope is his first and only term in elected office just shy of 11 months, a very short tenure, although he did last longer than Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
While the expulsion was wrong and the two Democrats and 111 other Republicans besides Santos were correct to vote no (another pair of Democrats voted present), 311 bipartisan votes to expel broke precedent and carried the day, ushering Santos out.
His rise and fall was a failure by many people and institutions.
It was a failure of the Republican Party organization in Nassau (once the most potent machine in the country) and Queens to see who this guy was before granting him their ballot line unopposed last year. Having run in 2020 as a sacrificial lamb against Rep. Tom Suozzi, who dispatched him with ease, the GOP bosses gave Santos their line without even making a phone call to see who he was (and who he wasn’t, like a college grad, a banker or a Jew).
It was the failure of Democrats in Nassau and Queens and their primary winner, Robert Zimmerman, to expose Santos’ fraud. Our competitive elections only work if each side keeps a check on the other side. Zimmerman was the last line of defense against Santos and he let the guy get past him.
It was a failure of the press on Long Island and the city (in which we include the Daily News as well as our competitors at Newsday, the Post and the Times in addition to TV, radio and on the web) to expose Santos’ uncountable lies before the general electron. Telling New Yorkers about Santos’ fantasy life of accomplishment after the voting ended was too late.
Once he won the election, there were more failures. His failure to have shame prevented him from resigning when faced with his mountain of fabrications. The members of the House, mostly notably other New York freshmen like Democrat Dan Goldman and Republican Anthony D’Esposito then failed to have the patience to let the chamber follow its long tradition by agitating for expulsion without either a criminal conviction or a formal recommendation of the Ethics Committee.
Friday, was the failure of the full House to maintain its norms, even with very abnormal individuals like Santos, and break with history.
And there are more failures ahead, as Gov. Kathy Hochul must now schedule a special election, where voters are excluded from selecting the parties’ candidates. The lack of primaries means that the Democratic and Republican standard bearers will be determined solely by party bosses, the same party organizations that let Santos slip through.
New York should either have primaries in special elections or otherwise use nonpartisan contests. Either would allow all interested contenders to have their chance to win over voters.
Another wrinkle in this sad tale is that the Democrats are trying to get the state’s highest court to order the congressional districts redrawn, setting up the possibility that the special election to fill Santos’ seat in February would have different lines by the June primary. The court should just leave everything in place.