It’s a sobering fact that a brazen liar with a fabricated biography could be elected to the United States Congress at a time when the resources needed to discover such fabrications are quite literally in the palms of our hands.
Yet that’s what happened in New York’s Third Congressional district in the last election. The election of George Santos is a wake-up call for all of us.
No one should be able to lie their way into elected office, whether that office is at 200 Howell Avenue in Riverhead or 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. That should be non-negotiable.
Voters have a right to know who is asking for the vote, where they come from, what their background and experience are, and who is supporting their election with the cash needed to campaign for office. That should also be non-negotiable.
But it seems that facts — and truth itself — have become less important as people are willing to overlook exaggerations and outright lies, big and small, by politicians running for or holding elected office. It’s as if voters, after decades of political “spin,” now simply expect to be lied to.
We hear it over and over: “They’re all the same” … “They all lie” … “They’re all out for themselves.” And that inevitably leads to: “It doesn’t matter who gets in.” So why even bother to vote?
This is a dangerous cycle. Apathy leads to a government where a very small number of people call the shots —and, rest assured, their interests do not usually align with the interests of the common citizen.
So much dysfunction and brokenness in our political system got us to this point. But here we are. What are the takeaways for us? What can be done to fix it?
Clearly political party committees have a responsibility to carefully screen candidates seeking their endorsement. Not too long ago, we’d tell you that you’d be surprised how often that doesn’t happen — and you would have been. Now we’d bet you wouldn’t be so shocked.
indeed, we’ve seen candidates for office, endorsed by local party committees, who’ve lied about their past, or made grand claims that could not be verified, or omitted things they didn’t want voters to know, or just declined to provide us with specific background information — basic stuff that goes on any resume when one is looking for a job. And some of them have gotten elected.
The press, too, has a responsibility to do those background checks to ensure that people asking for your vote are who they say they are, that their claims about past education, employment and achievements are factually correct.
We have not always fulfilled that responsibility. “We” here refers not just to the press in general, which clearly failed spectacularly with Santos, but to ourselves in particular.
While RiverheadLOCAL has held some candidates’ feet to the fire over the years, exposing false claims made about their backgrounds, we have not been consistent. We’ve done a lot of self-assessment since news of the Santos scandal broke. Could that have happened here, right under our noses? We looked at what we’ve done — and not done — to vet candidates for local office and decided that the answer was “maybe.” And that’s not good enough. We pledge to do better.
Going forward, we will request each local political party committee to provide — at a minimum — the full name, age, residence address and phone number of every person it selects for elective office. (Sadly, that information has not always been forthcoming from party leaders.)
We will request every person designated by a party committee as its candidate for any local office to provide us with a resumé that contains: the names and locations of schools and colleges attended, with dates; degrees conferred and dates; employment history with dates; and organization memberships and board positions, with dates.
Anyone running for office without the backing of a political party committee — people challenging the party’s choice in a primary election, people running on independent third-party lines and people running for school board — will be asked the same.
Every job applicant needs to have a resumé, and anyone seeking public office should be held to that same standard.
We will also ask each candidate to complete a supplementary questionnaire asking additional questions about information not typically found in resumés, including social media profiles.
We will do our level best to verify, using every means available to us, all information provided by every candidate.
Should any candidate decline to provide a resumé or answer any of the questions we pose, we will disclose that in our coverage. That has happened in the past, most recently in the last local election, (because we do, in fact, request candidate resumés.) We should have always reported when a candidate doesn’t produce one. Frankly, that’s a red flag that should always be hoisted up the flagpole. We promise to report that going forward.
Facts matter. Truth matters. The character of the people who hold local office matters — every bit as much as the character of people who hold state or national office. Maybe even more, because the decisions made at the local level affect our lives even more than those made in Albany and Washington.
Election integrity matters — and it begins with the integrity of people seeking our votes.
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