Zak Malamed, a Democrat running for the House seat of embattled U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), spoke with the Washington Blade by phone on Monday about his candidacy in what is expected to be one of the most consequential and closely watched congressional races of 2024.
“My hometown congressional district will make the difference between whether Republicans or Democrats control the House,” in turn determining the fate of legislative protections for the LGBTQ community and solutions to tackle crises like gun violence and the scarcity of affordable housing, he said.
It is not enough, however, just to elect Democrats at a time that calls for a new generation of leadership, Malamed said, including for his would-be constituents whose elected representatives have included “complacent” members of Congress from his own party.
Prior to Santos, New York’s 3rd Congressional District was represented by Tom Suozzi, a Democrat who last year defended Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, calling the measure prohibiting classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity “reasonable” and “common sense.”
Time reported in May that Suozzi, a declared candidate in the race, is “said to be among the party’s favorites for retaking the seat.”
Eight months ahead of the Democratic primary, where he is slated to face off against five other hopefuls including a member of the Nassau County Legislature and a former New York state senator, Malamed said he has “out-raised the entire field.”
This includes the lone Republican challenger who has entered the race as well as Santos, whose reelection campaign recently had to refund more to its donors than it had collected in contributions.
Running the only campaign that is not even partially self-funded, Malamed has also raised more than any candidate from either party vying to unseat the other three GOP incumbents whose House districts include Long Island: U.S. Reps. Nick LaLota, Anthony D’Esposito and Andrew Garbarino.
Malamed is a founder of The Next 50, a group that has helped elect multiple LGBTQ candidates across the country, along with other high profile Democrats like Maryland Gov. Wes Moore and U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.)
“If we take anything constructive away from George Santos being elected to represent this district in Congress, it’s that this district was unequivocally looking for something new — just not someone who lied about being Jewish, lied about having relatives who survived the Holocaust, and lied about starting a nonprofit,” he said.
In the months following Santos’ election in 2022, his constituents would learn their congressman had also fabricated an astonishing number of other details about his life and career, along with the news that he was under investigation by multiple law enforcement agencies for alleged financial crimes.
On Oct. 10, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York charged Santos with a 23-count criminal indictment for conspiracy, wire fraud, false statements, falsification of records, aggravated identity theft and credit card fraud.
A Jewish candidate with deep ties to his district
Ninety-four percent of Jewish voters in Santos’ district said they wanted him to resign according to a Newsday/Sienna College poll in January, which came after news reports revealed Santos’ claims of being “a proud Jew” with grandparents who fled Europe during World War II were bogus.
“The irony of those components of his story is that it’s actually my story, and it’s a big reason why I chose to step up and run, which has only become of greater consequence in this moment when the Jewish people in particular are under great threat in this country,” Malamed said.
He recounted the story of how, 10 years after she tuned into a radio broadcast to hear the U.N. officially recognize the state of Israel for the first time on May 11, 1949, his grandmother relocated from Tel Aviv to Lake Success, N.Y., the village in Great Neck on Long Island where the intergovernmental organization was then headquartered.
The area is also located within the congressional district, one of the nation’s most Jewish, that her grandson is now running to represent in Congress. Malamed, who was born and raised in Great Neck, stressed the seriousness with which he takes the responsibility of doing right by this community, which “has long been a beacon” for Jewish people “nationally and even internationally.”
Especially now, he said, in the aftermath of the deadly terrorist attacks against Israel on Oct. 7, as “antisemitism is skyrocketing” and threats to the security of Israel “are as grave as as they’ve been since my grandmother was listening to that radio address 75 years ago.”
Asked whether he expects Jewish voters in the district will be as monolithic against Santos as they were when answering that survey nine months ago, perhaps in light of his vocal support for Israel in recent weeks, Malamed responded that negative views of the congressman are monolithic among practically all voters in NY-03.
Additionally, he said, even right-leaning Jewish constituents are warming to President Joe Biden and Democratic leadership in Congress because they have seen their staunch support for and allyship with the state of Israel.
Malamed added that “up until, I think, last week, George Santos had more primary opponents than I had,” but Republican candidates have been dropping out of the race as the party “both locally and, as we’ve seen now, nationally, is in utter chaos.”
An antidote to House GOP’s dysfunction and extremism
Recent weeks have seen the Republican led House embroiled in infighting and dysfunction, leaderless 20 days after group of far-right members ousted their speaker, Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), in part because he had brokered a deal with Democrats to forestall a government shutdown with a last-minute stop-gap spending bill.
The move came after weeks in which House Republicans had insisted on adding partisan, far-right provisions, many of which were anti-LGBTQ, to appropriations bills that have historically passed with broad bipartisan support — despite the certainty that with these amendments, they would be dead-on-arrival in the Democratic controlled Senate.
Malamed denounced extremism within the House GOP conference, including Santos, who despite being openly-gay has supported legislation attacking drag performances and the transgender community and backed a bill to make the AR-15 the “national gun” of the U.S.
If elected, Malamed said his support for the LGBTQ community will be unwavering and unequivocal,” adding that residents in his district and the American people deserve nothing less from their elected representatives, whether they are Republicans or Democrats.
“I grew up in a time where I’ve seen rights expand, and yet in the past year or two some some rights for Americans are now being stripped and taken away and that absolutely must not happen to the LGBTQ community,” he said.
“We need to make sure that we work to combat discrimination, that we work to expand rights and make sure that our LGBTQ community members feel the support of their leaders and their government.”