Democratic Primary Heats Up In Rep. George Santos’ Seat

The district needs a
The district needs a

The district needs a "fresh face," according to Zak Malamed, a co-founder of The Next 50, which advocates for young leadership in the Democratic Party.

The contest to determine the Democratic nominee in the indicted Republican Rep. George Santos’ seat is getting more crowded by the day.

Zak Malamed, a Democratic Party activist and nonprofit co-founder from Great Neck, New York, announced his bid for New York’s 3rd Congressional District on Monday.

“I really, truly never imagined that the most dishonest MAGA Republican would be representing me in my own congressional district,” Malamed told HuffPost, “And that alone really inspired me and moved me to step up and help and serve.”

“When you see your home or your family or those close to you struggling, you really have two choices,” he added. “You can run away and avoid them, or you can help — and I’m choosing to step up and help and serve in this moment.”

Malamed, 29, is the co-founder and executive director of The Next 50, a group that raises money to elect younger Democrats to public office. Malamed describes himself as a “common sense Democrat,” who identifies with the views of the business-friendly New Democrat Coalition.

Three other candidates have already entered the Democratic primary: Nassau County legislator Josh Lafazan, former state Sen. Anna Kaplan and law professor Will Murphy.

Other Democrats who might still jump in the race include public relations executive Robert Zimmerman, who lost to Santos in November, and former Rep. Tom Suozzi (D), whose decision not to seek reelection enabled Santos to run in an open seat last election cycle.

New York’s 3rd is one of four House seats in the Empire State that Republicans flipped in November. House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn is already leading the charge to ensure that Democrats retake those and other New York seats, though it is unclear whether he or the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee plans to pick favorites in party primaries. 

I’m also a Democrat capable of building bridges across the ideological spectrum on the left.Zak Malamed

Regardless, the Democrats running in New York’s 3rd, which is composed of a lengthy stretch of Long Island’s North Shore and a sliver of northeast Queens, aren’t waiting for the national party to make the case for their electability vis-a-vis other Democrats. Speaking to HuffPost by phone on Monday, Malamed took a veiled jab at Zimmerman; Lafazan, who lost his 2022 primary bid to Zimmerman; and Kaplan, who lost her state Senate seat to a Republican in November.

“I don’t think we can take the risk of betting on someone or a campaign that lost to George Santos, or George Santos’ MAGA cronies across Long Island and northeast Queens,” he said. “We need a fresh face.”

It is unlikely, of course, that Santos will be the Republican nominee in the district, which includes a lengthy stretch of Long Island’s North Shore and sliver of northeast Queens.

Although the scandal-plagued lawmaker is seeking reelection, he is now facing a federal indictment for fraud, money laundering and other charges. Santos, who insists on his innocence, has refunded more donations than he raised thus far.

The revelation last December that Santos had largely fabricated his résumé, and subsequent reporting on his alleged swindling of investors in a business venture, prompted Long Island’s entire Republican establishment to condemn him and vow not to support his reelection bid.

Kellen Curry, a military veteran and former vice president at J.P. Morgan, a Wall Street megabank, has already declared his intention to challenge Santos for the GOP nomination. Other potential Republican contenders include state Sen. Jack Martins (R) and Nassau County legislator Mazi Melesa Pilip.

Asked how he would flip the seat absent a foil like Santos, Malamed noted that many of the Long Island Republicans lining up to condemn Santos now supported him in his 2020 and 2022 bids for Congress.

Those Republicans are “trying to deceive the voter and pretend that we’re going to all of a sudden forget that they’re the ones who made George Santos the MAGA sensation that he is today,” Malamed said.

If elected, Malamed wants to focus on lowering the cost of living for his constituents by fighting to eliminate the cap on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction and encouraging more housing construction. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) failed in her budget to force suburban communities with restrictive zoning laws to build more housing, but Malamed envisions a more cooperative approach yielding results.

Malamed, who has also advocated for more student involvement in education policy, hopes to join the House’s education and foreign affairs committees.

In keeping with the swing-voting character of an affluent district that President Joe Biden carried by eight percentage points in 2020, Malamed strikes a moderate note on many of the hot-button issues of the day. For example, he supports universal health care coverage, but not “Medicare for All,” and Biden’s narrow student debt relief plan rather than an across-the-board cancellation of debts.

“I’m really standing against all forms of extremism,” he said. “I see myself as pro-growth, pro-public safety, pro-public education ... But I’m also a Democrat capable of building bridges across the ideological spectrum on the left.”

Malamed is not ruling out accepting donations from corporate political action committees and would not say whether he wants to undo the 2018 financial deregulation law that the Federal Reserve has said made it harder to prevent the recent spate of bank collapses.

Instead, Malamed said he supported applying “more scrutiny” on the banks.

Malamed, who is Jewish, affirmed that he plans to be a staunch supporter of U.S.-Israel relations, including by opposing stricter conditions on U.S. aid to the Jewish state. Malamed’s grandmother immigrated to Long Island from Israel and her parents were among the state’s pioneering founders.

A supporter of Biden’s reelection bid, Malamed nonetheless plans to pitch voters on the advantages of electing a younger Democrat to Congress at a time when the advanced age of many party leaders has elicited criticism.

“He promised to be a bridge from one generation of leadership to the next,” he said. “And I hope that when people vote on the ballot in 2024, they will literally see that on their ballot.”