Instead of defending his constituents, Rep. George Santos will be...

Instead of defending his constituents, Rep. George Santos will be preoccupied with his legal defense and CD3's residents will be largely unaided. Credit: AP/Andrew Harnik

The nation has been captivated by Rep. George Santos’ web of lies, his questionable campaign disclosures, and the scrum of reporters chasing him across Capitol Hill. He’s the focus of headlines, the subject of memes, and the butt of jokes by late-night television hosts. Lost in that drama is that my neighbors in Congressional District 3 have been denied one of the most fundamental and practical functions of a member of Congress: constituent services.

It may sound basic, but navigating a byzantine federal bureaucracy is time-consuming and often complex. It’s not as simple as “cutting red tape.” To effectively serve constituents, a member of Congress must make casework a priority. Santos has been criticized for forwarding constituent calls to other congressional offices (which his staff claims to be a technical glitch), but the problem runs much deeper.

Long Island is a diverse community with demanding problems. Large numbers of veterans, seniors, and immigrant families generate dozens of new requests for congressional intervention every week. When I represented CD3, the first document I read whenever I returned to New York from Washington was a weekly review of our casework. The memo included details of veterans who received retroactive disability increases, seniors whose Medicare or Social Security problems were resolved, passports that were expedited, visas secured, and home foreclosures delayed. We weren’t always successful, but I took pride in knowing that we devoted the maximum staff, time, energy, and resources to every case. 

Often, my staff hit a roadblock and asked me to intervene. I remember working with my team through the Christmas holidays of 2006 to expedite an emergency medical visa for a 4-year-old child in Peru who needed emergency surgery on Long Island. Veterans I visited in American Legion and VFW halls were thrilled to receive news of a medal secured or a disability payment granted after months of wrangling with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

We called the successes “casework saves.” Most involved persistence: monitoring, reminding, cajoling and hectoring federal agencies and departments. We made calls, wrote letters, convened meetings until we either found a solution or exhausted every option. And I wasn’t alone — most of my Long Island colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, worked equally hard.

Sadly, Santos is a virtual ghost in the district, either not invited or unwilling to attend events (like a recent meeting of the region’s business leaders). If he’s not interacting with constituents, how can he possibly be aware of their problems?

For the foreseeable future, Santos will not be consumed with “casework saves” but with saving himself. A new subcommittee of the House Ethics Committee is investigating the countless complaints against him. The process could take months, even longer. Santos also faces inquiries and investigations by the attorney general of New York, the Nassau County district attorney, and the Federal Election Commission, even as he apparently plans to run again in 2024.

His bandwidth will be consumed by responding to each investigation. He’s already suspended his duties on two congressional committees to focus on his effort to “clear everything up,” in the words of Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

That doesn’t mean Santos won’t have any casework victories. Presumably, his staff will act earnestly to solve problems in the district. But their boss won’t be in the trenches with them. Instead of defending his constituents, Santos will be preoccupied with his legal defense and CD3's residents will be largely unaided. They were duped into electing a new congressman last fall, and now have been denied a true representative.

This guest essay reflects the views of Steve Israel, a Democrat who represented Congressional District 3 from 2001 to 2017.

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