Robert Zimmerman remembers the frustration all too well. He kept telling people that the district wasn’t as Democratic as they assumed. He kept saying that his Republican opponent was kind of crazy and folks should pay attention. He and his staff kept trying to interest journalists, but it wasn’t seen as a marquee race.
Zimmerman, a longtime fixture in New York Democratic political circles making his first run for major office, ended up losing to Republican George Santos, who ignominiously became the sixth member ever expelled from the House of Representatives shortly before noon on Friday, December 1. Zimmerman was the victim of one of the most immaculate perfect storms I’ve ever seen in American politics.
I spoke with Zimmerman on the day of Santos’s expulsion, just a few hours after the vote. His reaction? “A sense of relief,” he said, “that we can begin to put this behind us.” He said that Santos has been so AWOL on constituent service that he, Zimmerman, had been fielding calls from people in the district, helping them with passport requests and the kinds of things their congressional representatives normally do. “I guess I’m the hardest-working nonincumbent around,” he said.
What made the Santos story maddening to Democrats, as you may recall, was that his Himalayan mountain range of lies came to light not during the campaign, but after. The New York Times broke the story nationally on December 18, 2022. Zimmerman recalls a text from a friend that morning: Have you read the Times story? No, he had not. Well, he remembers thinking upon reading it, “Thank goodness it’s finally out.”
But why didn’t he and his campaign know all this? He explains it all in this Zoom chat and reflects on the broader lessons of the Santos story. “It’s what happens,” he says, “when there’s a complete lack of public engagement.” People who don’t know any better might chuckle at the guy who managed to lose to George Santos, but those who pay attention know this wasn’t Zimmerman’s fault.