Former Congressional candidate evaluates what we can learn from Santos’ election
Recently, an abundance of fraudulent claims by congressman-elect George Santos have come to light, sparking important conversations around political honesty and accountability. On Monday, Dec. 26, former Congressional candidate Melanie D’Arrigo for NY-3 interviewed with former Legislative candidate Rae Arora to discuss some key flaws in the ordeal, and what larger implications might be for the Democratic party of New York.
D’Arrigo was shocked and disappointed on behalf of NY-3, a constituency which includes Plainview, Bethpage, Hicksville, Farmingdale, and Massapequa Park. “I’m very sad for my district,” she said. “You know, we’ve become the laughingstock of the country, and that’s really unfortunate because it’s a wonderful district with amazing people. And I think we’ve got our work cut out for us over the next couple of years to rebuild and reengage voters and figure out what went right and what went wrong.”
Perhaps the biggest source of confusion is the apparent negligence of both parties in candidate research. When followed up with in an additional interview, D’Arrigo stated, “If I were a Republican, I would feel betrayed that the party supported a candidate with so little respect for the district. That he lied to our faces and, ultimately, all the way into office. As a Democrat, I am astonished that no opposition research was done by the Democratic campaign. What we haven’t seen is either party nor campaign team take any responsibility for these blunders. In such highly polarized times, accountability is so important. Without it, the electorate will continue to fracture and lose trust in our government.”
However, D’Arrigo points out the challenges that come with running a campaign, including resource shortages, and a lack of support from the party, which sometimes make candidate or opposition research difficult. “What the average person may not realize is that running a campaign is akin to running a business, except everything needs to be up and running on day one,” she describes. “It often feels like you are building the track as the train is chugging along.” There is also a lot of mystery surrounding the process, from filing to become a candidate and FEC-regulations, to building a team and a campaign strategy. “There is a lot of work to be done in a short period of time with little room for error.”
Part of this struggle stems from how much (or little) a campaign receives party support. D’Arrigo comments on her experience, “…as someone who has been around many campaigns, if you’ve worked on a campaign or you were heavily involved in volunteering for a campaign, you know it’s widely accepted that there is very little support from the party. Little-to-non-existent support, I would say.” She believes that if our communities want meaningful representation in government, strengthening infrastructure is an important first step. This entails building a bench of local campaign staffers, demystifying the electoral process, creating new funding resources, training candidates and inviting more of our communities to be part of the process. Despite this seemingly long list, D’Arrigo is hopeful about the process. “The good news is that we have incredible opportunities for improvement. The party has a huge role to play. The responsibility to grow and energize the party lies with them.”
The Local Democratic Party:
Arora also asked the former Congressional candidate about her sense of local parties, such as the Nassau County Democratic Committee, or NCDC. “On paper, we have a party system that should theoretically work,” she said. But the former Congressional candidate pointed to several structural inconsistencies which have impacted the party’s ability to present as unified and appealing to potential voters. In her role as a Nassau Countee committee person, D’Arrigo notes her lack of expected responsibilities. “I don’t get asked anything other than to come to two expensive fundraisers every year, I get asked to go collect signatures, and then I get asked if someone can take my proxy to vote.” She recalled that when the state party voted on their platform, many committee personnel gave their proxies, and did not themselves attend, which did not sit right with D’Arrigo. “I think you shouldn’t be on the state committee if you’re not going to go to the meetings,” she said.
Furthermore, communication issues cause sparse amounts of information to be passed along between party members. D’Arrigo says, “What is deeply troubling to me is when I ask questions of my zone leader, and she says ‘Oh, that’s a good question, let me raise it up the flagpole!’ she can’t get the answers to them. So when I say well, who’s running? ‘I don’t know.’” The average committee member is, to her chagrin, kept in the dark, and unaware of what is really going on. “We don’t hear from the chairman very often, and it’s unfortunate.”
There is also very little social content emerging for or from the party, D’Arrigo points out. “We live in a very social world right now where everyone is glued to their social media. I very rarely see anything shared by the committee.” This was concurred by Arora, who expressed dissatisfaction at the amount – or lack thereof – of information available to potential voters. “If you went to the NCDC [website] before the election,” he said, “you wouldn’t be able to find biographies on any of [the Democratic] candidates. And this is the pattern for the last few elections.”
Even more broadly, D’Arrigo worries that the party no longer has a clear and consistent sense of self. “It’s bigger than getting behind a specific candidate. The democratic party has always been a big tent party, but I think we are dangerously close to becoming so big that we don’t know who we are anymore… Why would anyone join a political party that doesn’t seem to know what it stands for? Young voters don’t get enough credit. They are smart and look at the issues facing our country with a very different and very personal perspective… And when we don’t explicitly define what we stand for, we can’t expect young people to support those who are legislating against their best interests and jeopardizing their future. It’s not a Democrat or Republican problem. It’s a political corruption problem. It’s not only affecting young voters, but minority voters and women as well. We can’t expect voting blocks to come out if we are not giving them something explicit to vote for.”
Young Voters Ostracized:
In recent years, there has been a notable increase in young voters registering with neither major party, and instead as independent. D’Arrigo is not surprised “They’re registering as blanks, because they think it’s nonsense. And they’re right to think that!… Politicians on both sides of the aisle take money from the industries they regulate. It is our politicians who decide how we spend our budget. Young voters are watching our government reward those that give the most money to their campaigns at the expense of regular citizens. How can young people compete with ExxonMobil, Raytheon, United Healthcare and the big banks on Wall Street?” She warns that, unless something changes, both parties can expect to see further alienation of voters. “This is a time to build bridges. We do that through accountability, transparency and by passing legislation that speaks to the needs of our communities. Voters can forgive mistakes, but denying any wrongdoing whether intentional or unintentional erodes trust. Accountability is not one sided, it must be a principle we all adhere to.”