The saga over Rep. George Santos and his litany of lies hits especially hard for those who live in the 3rd Congressional District, which covers Long Island and parts of Queens.
Since Santos was sworn in just under a month ago, the embattled lawmaker’s constituents have said in interviews that he has made a mockery of the very system of government they were seeking to influence by flipping the district from blue to red.
Local donors are also expressing buyer’s remorse — with some telling Gothamist they are unlikely to give to Santos should he run in 2024. A handful of voters say they continue to back the lawmaker, contending – and this is the common refrain – that “all lawmakers lie.”
The animus toward Santos is underscored by a Newsday/Siena College poll released on Tuesday that found 78% of those surveyed exclusively within the district want Santos to resign. Those sentiments appeared to align with the views of a number of constituents and local donors reached by Gothamist, many of whom are still in disbelief over what has unfolded.
Some stated that his lies, which range across his life experience and biography, from his employment to his education and his family, would limit his effectiveness – even if he is able to weather the political storm and any state and federal investigations. On Tuesday, Santos told the Republican delegation that he would recuse himself from his two committee assignments pending ongoing investigations into his personal and campaign finances.
“And this week, along with Newsday, we find that in the district in which he was elected just months ago, his constituents view him unfavorably and they don’t want him to continue serving in Congress – by huge bipartisan margins rarely seen in today’s divided political climate,” said Siena College’s poll director Don Levy.
Campaign filings show Santos received about just $744,000 in donations within his district, where the median income stands around $119,000. In calls to dozens of previous donors who’ve contributed at least $500 to Santos – several of whom worked as entrepreneurs or political operatives – many expressed disappointment in the revelations about him.
Joseph Oppedisano, owner of Il Bacco, the now-famed Italian restaurant where Santos routinely ran up a tab of exactly $199.99, donated $3,750 to Santos’ congressional campaign committee. Oppedisano told Gothamist he would not donate to Santos’ future campaign, but welcomed him and any other diner to his restaurant.
“What can I say, he lied,” said Oppedisano, noting he had not seen the new congressman since the new reports about his many fabrications. But he quickly added, “politicians all lie.”
Naveen Anumolu, an entrepreneur who contributed $610 to Santos’ campaign, expressed “a little remorse” over his donation. Last year, he and Santos attended baseball games together.
“I’m disappointed but not running away and open-minded to see if he’ll come through on his policies,” Anumolu said in an interview.
Leslie Fastenberg, a political observer who gave $1,000 to the campaign, also expressed disappointment, though she said Santos’ lies were no novelty.
“I’m always disappointed when I find out the people that we entrust with our votes are liars. Regrettably, George Santos is the latest in a long list of people who have disappointed me,” Fastenberg said, noting that other lawmakers have lied as well.
“That being said, will he vote in a way that’s satisfactory? Maybe,” Fastenberg added.
In some cases, Santos’ friends held fundraisers for him, where they solicited contributions from other friends. Among them was Gurmeet Buttar of Massapequa, who gave $500 on the recommendation of a friend who held a fundraiser for Santos. He also regretted his contribution after hearing news reports about the congressman.
But Alan Jacoby, a Wantagh conservative and podcaster who considers Santos a good friend, unequivocally supported the embattled congressman despite the lies. Jacoby contributed $1,000 to Santos’ campaign and said he will do so again.
“I don’t feel that this is something that is detrimental to the voters. I think George Santos is going to legislate and vote the way he promised and that’s America First with the interest of his constituents,” Jacoby said. “Let’s look at his voting record. Let’s let him cook a bit.”
Constituents across Santos’ district remained angry over who is now representing them in office with several telling Gothamist that they had disowned him as their representative.
Charlie Caliendo, a resident of Wantagh — an area that overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election — voted for Santos, casting a ballot along party lines. Now he says he regrets it.
“The guy’s a laughingstock, as a matter of fact, the Republicans should kick him out,” Caliendo said. “If you lied how much you paid for a car or how much you paid for your house – you don’t lie about your mother dying in 9/11, you’re gay but you were married, even though you know that does go on here and there. What else – his grandmother got out of Auschwitz?”
In Port Washington, Bob O’Brien compared Santos’ lack of credibility to not having a voice in Congress.
“I think I have the most ineffective congressman in the United States Congress right now,” said O’Brien, a retired professor who voted Democrat. “I lost part of my democracy.”
Santos’ credibility issues would make it harder for him to address his constituents’ needs, O’Brien said. Among them, O’Brien said, would be a push for greater housing and transit options for Port Washington, a coastline community that largely voted Democrat in the last presidential election.
In Little Neck, Dave Chang wondered why no one from the party establishment had vetted Santos more thoroughly.
“That fraud,” Chang said of Santos. “Isn’t his whole life like false — lies and everything.”
Chang had been walking by Santos’ district office in Queens, which quietly opened in early January.
For Lauren Narman of Great Neck, a retired teacher who spent 30 years in the profession, she said she can’t imagine an educator who lied about the types of things that Santos is accused of being able to keep their job. “We’d be written up, scrutinized, humiliated, we’d be reprimanded for sure,” she said.
“He almost expects everyone to just ignore what he’s done and move on,” Narman added. “I don’t agree with that.”
Santos has characterized the inaccuracies in his resume as simple embellishments, and has refused repeated requests to step down. Mary Pop, who was walking her 10-year-old daughter Camille home from school in Douglaston on a recent Wednesday, said Santos’ ability to succeed using those falsehoods sent a terrible message to children.
“I don't care what colleges he went to, or what banks, or law, or whatever he did, that's not important,” said Pop. “Stand up for what’s important: the truth and honesty. Those values are so lost in today’s society that it’s frustrating, it’s just heartbreaking and I do blame whoever got him as far as he did, because he didn’t do it alone,” she added.
Sticking by Santos
The Siena College poll found 17% of respondents did not want Santos to leave office.
Among them was Tamara Williams, a Republican from Port Washington.
“I'm a Christian. I believe in God. Jesus would forgive him. Jesus would give him a second chance. I would give him a second chance. Who am I to say?” Williams said. “Yes, I feel bad that he did, but to be honest with you, I don't think there's any politician that doesn't have any skeletons in their closet.”
Sridhar Shanmugam, a founding board member at the Shri Saneeswara Temple in New Hyde Park, said he had recently met Santos and was undeterred by his struggles with the truth.
Santos visited the Hindu temple in January during a prayer service and tweeted photos of his visit from his official congressional Twitter account.
Shanmugam said that Santos, who was not invited by the temple, came to the service on his own and stayed for nearly three hours.
“As a person running the temple, I cannot be judgmental and I don’t want to say any comments about what’s happening…we at the temple want everybody to be in love, in harmony,” Shanmugam said.
Paul Gulamerian, a Glen Cove resident, theorized that Santos is not going anywhere, given his party’s slim majority in the House of Representatives.
“Well, people have short memories. And they're still going to look for his vote. Will he be effective in what he wants to accomplish? Probably because the simple fact that there's no majority, major majority in the House, so they're going to [be] courting him for his vote,” Gulamerian said. “It’s still politics.”