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Who’s picking up Santos’ slack? Meet Rep. D’Esposito

Office of Rep. Anthony D'Esposito

A lot of attention is on Rep. George Santos for lying to voters to get elected.

But Long Island actually sent two more Republican freshmen to Congress, and helped make up the narrow majority the GOP now holds in the House.

WSHU’s J.D. Allen spoke with Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY), who represents New York’s fourth congressional district, about his unusual first month in office.

WSHU: Congressman, you come from law enforcement. How orderly would you describe our nation’s Capital?

AD: Listen, the first couple of weeks, we had a bumpy ride, I guess, or the first week I should say. It definitely wasn't the swearing-in that I had expected. Obviously, we had a tumultuous week with the Speaker vote. But thankfully, our party was able to come together and unite and elect Kevin McCarthy as our leader.

Office of Rep. Anthony D'Esposito

It was not what I expected, getting sworn in at 2 a.m. on a late Friday evening, early Saturday morning. But nonetheless, it's an honor to be here. And I'm glad to be part of history.

WSHU: Look, I think the job of congressman, not everybody might know the work that they do. What's something that surprised you about the job of being a member of Congress?

AD: I would have to say that, you know, the ability for everyone here to really reach out and extend the hand of welcome has been amazing. And that's honestly true for some individuals on both sides of the aisle. But especially with our conference, I mean, everyone is so willing to help, willing to welcome, willing to show you the ropes and get you acclimated and help you with staffing.

So, you know, I think very often you come here, you come to a new position, and you're concerned that you're kind of by yourself and have to fend for yourself. And it's definitely not the case here. So that was very — it was surprising, but definitely welcoming.

WSHU: How have your priorities aligned with the new House GOP majority in the first month? What do you believe your role is on your committee assignments?

AD: I think that the assignments that I was given by the steering [committee] is very reflective on not only my background and my history and what I've done in my life, but also the district that I represent.

You know, being named to the [Transportation and Infrastructure Committee] is an exciting experience. I'm looking forward to working hard to deliver for the people of Long Island. I don't think there's a committee that's better served in Congress to do exactly that. You know, Long Island and Nassau County specifically are full of hard working blue collar people who are looking for their elected officials to deliver results that they can see, results that they can smell, so to speak. And that's exactly what I want to do. You know, I did that when I was a member of the Hempstead Town Board working in a bipartisan fashion to deliver, deliver change, be accessible, always be in the community. And that's exactly what I'm going to do now. And I think transportation infrastructure gives me the ability to do that.

Secondly, I was named to the Homeland Security Committee, which obviously I've spent most of my adult life in the public safety world: Emergency management. I'm a 22-year member of the Island Park Fire Department. I served as chief staff from 2009-16. I was the incident commander for both [hurricanes] Irene and Sandy. I'm a retired New York City detective, highly decorated and amassed over 600 arrests in my time there. So, being a part of the Homeland Security Committee is something that I really look forward to. I think that I can bring, you know, knowledge and real life experience to deliver for not only for Long Island and New York, but you know, our entire nation. And I was even more honored to be named the chairman of a subcommittee for emergency management and technology. I mean, it's pretty rare to have a freshman here in Congress named or given a gavel and named a chairman of a subcommittee. So, I was honored to do that.

And then lastly, Speaker McCarthy had called me about a week ago and asked me if I would have any interest in serving on his House Administration Committee, which is a little bit different, because it doesn't go through the steering process. It's a direct appointment from the Speaker of the House. And I was obviously willing — honored. And the House Administration oversees a lot of things. But something near and dear to my heart, is it oversees the Capitol Police. So I'm looking forward to working in all three capacities, not only to, you know, make our nation safer, to provide, you know, real change and infrastructure improvements on Long Island and in Nassau County, but also keep our nation safe.

WSHU: Another part of the job is of course here at home. What’s involved for you in this first month setting up constituent services for your House district?

AD: So luckily, I come from, you know, from the town of Hempstead, where I would argue my office had one of the best outreach and constituent services anywhere. The team that I had was great. And thankfully, that entire team has come with me to my new office in Congress. So they have taken over the district office and Garden City.

I think it's gone pretty seamless. We're still streaming calls for anything and everything, whether it's a federal issue or a local issue. I want my office to always be that one-stop shop where people can call and get the answers that they need for what's most important to them at that time. And obviously, you know, I've done my best to catch the first flight out of here, when I'm done voting, and the last flight, you know, back to get to DC so that I can spend as much time as I can in the district — that's something that's always been important to me.

It's something that I think matters most being in the community, you know, meeting the new Eagle Scouts and going to grand openings and making sure people see you in the community is super important. I said during the campaign, and I've said it now, when I was a young cop, one of the things that a veteran had told me is, you know, when you are a member of law enforcement, you need to keep an eye on patrol, you need to make sure that you always have your windows down, so you could see the streets and hear the streets and smell the streets. And that's exactly what I bring to government and politics. And I want to make sure that I'm back in the district as much as I can. So I have my windows down, boots on the ground, and I could hear and smell those streets.

WSHU: Yeah, so it sounds like you're already hearing from your constituents. What kind of concerns?

AD: Everything and anything, you know. I still have constituents calling for local issues; the issues that I was dealing with in the town of Hempstead. My district has probably the most incorporated villages. So some of the issues are village related. And obviously, we're now handling federal issues, whether it's immigration, whether it's an issue with the IRS, whether it is, you know, passports are a big one.

So, we've really fielded numerous calls. We are taking some calls from the district to our north, and trying to help those people as much as we can as well.

WSHU: The district to the north — Have you been hearing from any of Congressman George Santos’ constituents?

AD: That's the district. People that either: 1. Can't reach them, or 2. Don't want to. So we're happy to deal with that. I know our county executive has fielded most calls that come in with any federal issues to our office and we're happy to help.

WSHU: That puts a lot of extra work on you as a new guy in the House yourself. You're trying to get settled and bring your own office over, and now you've got a whole other district to pay attention to. That's a tall order.

AD: It is a tall order. And I'm sure, you know, it's temporary. But, you know, I didn't take this job and my team didn't become part of the team to work short days. So we have to do what we have to do to deliver for the people of Nassau [County].

WSHU: You say it's short term. What do you think George Santos should do then?

AD: Like I said from the beginning, he should resign. He announced that he was recusing himself from this committee and I immediately made a statement that, you know, I think that was the old way of quitting before you're fired. I think that he has lost all credibility with the voters. I think there was a poll that was released … that close to 80% of the people polled think that he should not be in office.

And quite frankly, on a personal level here, it's been an absolute distraction for a time where we should be focusing on rolling up our sleeves and getting to work. And every opportunity that there is to do something good he single handedly takes the oxygen out of the room. And the conversation immediately goes to what's going on with George Santos.

WSHU: So, this is the beginning of the next step of your career. What do you want your legacy to be?

AD: I think right now, I want it to be someone who has, you know, hears the concerns of the people who delivers on the promises that he made during the campaign, and who was there and accessible and delivers for the people. And I'm also you know, I've already joined the bipartisan SALT caucus…

WSHU: For state and local tax deductions…

AD: … which is a group committed to getting it back and if at the very least, making sure it's not renewed in a few years. So, you know, I've been someone who has been able to work across the aisle, whether it was sitting in a police car, working with people who my life depended on them and their life depended on me, whether it was working in the fire service and overseeing you know, 125 different personalities, or whether it was serving on the town board.

I always did it with the person; I didn't do it with the party. And that's exactly what I'm going to continue to do that.

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.