BY BRUCE ANDERSON
— Reprinted with permission from The Ledger in Lakeland
The ridiculous farce of George Santos is now running its course.
Santos ran as a Republican in the Democrat-leaning 3rd District of New York (Long Island) and managed to beat out his opponent in one of the few upset victories of the 2022 election cycle. In a relatively liberal political neighborhood, any Republican win was unlikely − even in the best environment. But win he did, knocking off a lackluster Democratic opponent.
But Santos was not all he seemed. Actually, he was nothing of what he presented. He sold himself as a Wall Street success, having graduated from prestigious Baruch College before taking the short ladder to Citicorp and Goldman Sachs. He had a mansion in the Hamptons, he told them, and other homes scattered among the elite neighborhoods around New York. His grandparents, he told his constituency, had escaped the Holocaust (he also told them he was Jewish) then fled to Belgium, and eventually to Brazil. Quite a curriculum vitae.
The problem was that it was almost entirely lies. He never graduated from Baruch (or any other college or university), he’d never worked at either Citicorp or Goldman Sachs. He was Catholic, owned no properties, and he and his husband were behind on their rent on a row house in Queens. This story would be hilarious if it weren’t so terribly sad.
But here’s the point: Most of us know this story from the in-depth reporting eventually done by The New York Times, but that’s not where it originated. Santos’ troubles began because of the tenacious reporting of Maureen Daly at a tiny, right-leaning print newspaper called The North Shore Leader.
With limited circulation and very limited newsroom staffing, the Long Island news outlet’s usual stories run to items like “Oyster Bay Hosts 11th India Day Parade” or “Beaches Closed After Heavy Rain.” They also run obituaries, store hours and restaurant news. But peppered among these are a host of local political stories — scandals, issues, school board news, challenges of growing communities, trash pickup (or non-pickup) and, of course, local politicians.
Because that’s what local papers do. They are the public regulators of local government officials or would-be officials. They record the pulse of the community — births and deaths, local sports stories, high-school scholars and debaters, rising stars in local business, new building developments and the like. But like reporters everywhere, they are on constant alert to the weird goings-on of local candidates, governing bodies and the fools, fixers, grifters and crooks that always seem to be just on the edge of the action. What keeps these people at bay is the fine day-to-day reporting at papers like The Leader.
Or, like the one you are reading now.
Where would we be without these folks? Unless we make a real effort to support them, we may soon find out.
Local newspapers are being overshadowed and driven out of business — drowned in a sea of internet misinformation, Facebook and Instagram posts and the twaddle and prattle of a million clickbait attention-snatchers and Twitter-handlers. Subscriptions are down, and so is local intelligence. Some politicians are only as honest as they need to be, and without your local reporters, they need not be much.
All politics is local, and if local news reporting dries up, what mangy foxes does that leave guarding the henhouse? People like Santos.
— Anderson is the Dr. Sarah D. and L. Kirk McKay Jr. Endowed Chair in American History, Government, and Civics and Miller Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Florida Southern College. He is also a columnist for The Ledger and political consultant and on-air commentator for WLKF Radio.