Writer Phil Reisman sounds off on George Santos, lying in the political sphere, and the Truthful Disclosure Bill.
As liars go, George Santos is in a sociopathic class all his own. Someday, a movie will be made about him, and it will star a sweaty, fattened-up Leonardo DiCaprio wearing thick glasses. We can only hope.
But while Santos has for the past several months taken lying to a level of performance art, he is not alone — at least not when it comes to faking his curriculum vitae. Polling data shows that 55% of job seekers embellish or tell outright lies on their résumés. Usually, the liars don’t get caught — and usually they don’t run for Congress and win, which Santos did, to the eternal embarrassment of Long Island’s Republican party.
In the humdrum world of Westchester politics, we know of no imposters equal to the chutzpah of George Santos. To our knowledge, no officeholder here has ever donned the splendiferous garments of a drag queen to compete in a Brazilian beauty pageant. Nevertheless, Santos’s fraudulent ascendency to Capitol Hill really got under the itchy skin of County Executive George Latimer, so much so that he created an anti-Santos law called the Truthful Disclosure Bill.
The Santos prevention bill stands as a model for other county governments to emulate, says County Legislator Catherine Parker (D-Rye).
“I’m happy to say that there is no George Santos among us,” she says. “But what we saw happen on the national stage could potentially happen in Westchester.”
The new law states that future candidates for county executive and the part-time county Board of Legislators must attest to the truthfulness of their educational and professional work histories before filing the documents with the Board of Ethics — an appointed panel with minimal clout and a history of periodic dormancy.
In the humdrum world of Westchester politics, we know of no imposters equal to the chutzpah of George Santos.
An office seeker’s résumé would then be available for public scrutiny and, if found to be in any way fraudulent, would supposedly be subject to public shaming. This makes it easier to perform opposition research, with the political aim of exposing, say, a candidate’s false claim of a Harvard degree when he matriculated instead at Hamburger University. Other than that, the law smells trivial — and like so many laws that garner ephemeral headlines, there’s an even chance it will fall prey to neglect and disuse within a few years.
Of course, we do live in a trust-impaired society. This is the era of “truthiness” and “alternative facts,” where the serial lies of our presidents are tallied daily and weighed with Pinocchio noses. Given the poor condition of the body politic, it seems inevitable that an imposter like Santos would emerge from the fetid ooze — a man devoid of shame who, in the quest for votes, invented a story that he was Jewish and that his grandparents survived the Holocaust. (By the way, that outrageous claim was made in a campaign video, not on a résumé.)
Law or no law, could a George Santos clone slip through the cracks in Westchester and get elected county executive? Not likely.
In any case, it is worth recalling the strange saga of Richard Hobbs, a Right to Life candidate who ran for county legislator in 2001 against James Masiano, an incumbent Republican from New Rochelle. Hobbs was the closest thing to a George Santos-type phenomenon in Westchester politics. Curiously, he was left out of the public discussion concerning the Truth Disclosure law, evidence that institutional memory is in short supply these days.
Hobbs was 47 years old when he ran for office and had no political experience. He was a professional clown who entertained children by twisting balloons into animal shapes. At Christmastime, he played Santa Claus at the New Rochelle mall.
Hobbs was also a twice-convicted pedophile. Oops.
Unfortunately, the RTL party had failed to vet Hobbs. A tip to The Journal News exposed his status as a registered sex offender, but at that point, it was too late to remove his name from the ballot.
People were appalled. But Hobbs couldn’t understand what the fuss was all about. He even played the victim, saying his past was irrelevant because “there are no children in the county legislature.”
He also posed a rhetorical question to a reporter that should go down in local history. After acknowledging that he was a child molester, he asked, “Do you think that makes me unqualified for public office?”
Evidently some thought it did not. He got 136 votes.