Robert Zimmerman lost to George Santos. Plain and simple. And it’s easy for Monday morning quarterbacks to point the finger at Zimmerman for losing to a fictitious candidate. But like everything else, there is more to the story than meets the eye.
For now, Zimmerman’s only focus is working with a bipartisan coalition in the district, made of angry Democrats, Republicans, and independents who want Santos expelled from Congress and his Republican accomplices in the U.S. House held accountable.
Sure, Zimmerman was sad, angry, and frustrated when he lost the election in New York’s Third Congressional District, made up primarily of Long Island communities. But Zimmerman decided to channel that disappointment into doing something to help the district’s residents get rid of Santos.
“We have been mobilizing with different groups and organizations, developing petitions, and holding rallies to try and put pressure on House Republicans to get rid of him,” Zimmerman told me during a phone call before he headed out the door for a meeting. “We are fighting for our democracy, for truth, and for [accountability].”
Zimmerman took me back to last summer and how the general election unfolded. “The New York primary was in June, but because there were issues with redistricting in our district, we didn’t have our primary until August 23. I was fortunate to win the Democratic nomination, but on August 24, I had to prepare for a short campaign of only two months rather than four, and I had to hit the ground running hard to raise for the general election.”
The race would be between Zimmerman and Santos, the first time in U.S. history that two LGBTQ+ people faced each other in a congressional election. “There was a great frustration because the narrative never went beyond that,” Zimmerman pointed out.
“It was just an easy, broad-stroke analysis about the race, and it was sort of left there. For example, there wasn’t much discussion about who would actually help the LGBTQ+ community, and as testament to that, I also think it’s important that I call out the tremendous help I received from both the Victory Fund and the Equality PAC.”
Because of the redistricting, the Third Congressional District was no longer a safe Democratic seat. “Pollsters Larry Sabato and Charlie Cook rated the district a toss-up," Zimmerman said. "We knew it was going to be a very hard race, and so we had to be scrappy.”
Many outlets and pundits have wondered why the campaign didn’t have opposition research, or "oppo," in campaign parlance, on Santos, but it did. “The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee gave us an 87-page document on Santos, and there were a number of his lies pointed out, specifically what affected the district, namely his stance on abortion, his role in the insurrection, and his vulgar use of the word 'groomers,'” Zimmerman noted.
And Zimmerman and I both mentioned that fact the media even admitted that they didn’t have the resources or the time to dive into Santos further. ”That’s just the reality of the situation,” Zimmerman agreed.
Incumbent Congressman Tom Suozzi, a Democrat, gave up the seat to run in the gubernatorial primary against New York Gov. Kathy Hochul. “Remember too that Suozzi ran against Santos in 2020, and he didn’t pay much attention to him,” Zimmerman said
He made another point, which the media doesn’t often mention, and that is that the Democrats in the state took a beating in the 2022 general election. “We lost four congressional seats and many [state] legislative seats."
Zimmerman continued that many Democrats didn't focus on issues that resonated the most with voters — like crime, for instance.
But that’s enough about the race. No one is solely to blame for the disaster that was Santos, and while pundits argue among themselves about how Santos became, well, Santos — he is now a verb — the immediate concern is trying to correct the situation, and that includes making sure that the congressional office continues to function in order to address constituent needs.
“The people of this district deserve proper representation,” Zimmerman pointed out. “Because, like you, I have congressional experience, so a lot of people are coming to me for their Social Security, veterans’ affairs, and other issues that they need help and support from their local congressman for in getting resolved. And other district offices that surround this district are also offering their support.”
The other thing that is a must for a U.S. representative is the weekend treks back to the district to attend meetings, functions, and events, and spending time in the district during congressional recesses, like this week. “He’s never back here,” Zimmerman observed. “Nobody has ever seen him. He hasn't attended one event, one community meeting. Nothing. No one even knows where he lives. It’s like he’s on the lam, and he is.”
Zimmerman believes that the criminal that is Santos will be booted from office, but the question is when. “He’s going to be expelled, and like everything else, it’s about the money. His personal fund is clouded, and at some point, the illegalities are going to see the light of day, and it won’t be worth it for the Republicans to keep him around.”
CNN reported Wednesday that some top Republicans are working to plot his demise, this despite the fact that Santos, who said he wouldn't run for reelection, is now considering doing so. "After previously signaling to Republicans he wouldn’t seek reelection, Santos has recently been telling people he is considering running for a second term, according to multiple Republican sources, and privately insists he will ultimately be cleared of all wrong-doing and that his treasurer will face scrutiny over his finances," according to CNN. Will Santos stick his finger in everyone's eye by sticking it out, or will Republicans find a way to get rid of him?
If and when that happens, will Zimmerman run again? “I want to be clear,” he said pointedly. “This is so much bigger than anyone’s personal aspirations. Out of this travesty, we are witnessing a rebirth of activism and bipartisanship that is more profound here on Long Island than anywhere else in this country. People are standing up together, speaking up and taking action, and we will prevail in getting rid of this liar and a cheat. We will turn this around.”