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Another Jewish Democrat launches campaign against Santos — to defeat the ‘MAGA mishegas’

Zak Malamed co-founded a donor network to support young Democratic candidates. Now he is one

Zak Malamed, 29, the-co-founder of a donor network to support young Democrats, launched a bid Monday for the Congressional seat now held by Rep. George Santos, who was indicted last week on 13 criminal counts. The scandal-plagued Republican freshman, who pleaded not guilty, has resisted calls to resign and recently announced he would run again in 2024. 

Malamed, of Great Neck, is one of three Jewish Democrats who have already announced their bids for the seat, which was last held by a Democrat in 2020. 

“New Yorkers are hungry for fresh leadership,” Malamed said, “and this district will be crucial for taking back the majority in Washington.” Republicans now hold a thin majority in the U.S. House.

In 2019, Malamed, a third-generation Long Islander, co-founded the donor network “Next 50,” to recruit and raise money for Democratic candidates under 50, and to encourage younger people to donate to Democrats. The group, which has raised more than $10 million for its political action committee in the last three years, claimed an 80% success rate in the 2022 election cycle, including helping Democrats — Gabe Vasquez in New Mexico’s 2nd District and Yadira Caraveo in Colorado’s 8th District — flip seats in two of the five most competitive races in the country.

Despite his deep involvement in electoral politics, this is the first time Malamed is running for office himself.

“I take that expertise and that experience to this race,” Malamed said in an interview.

Zak Malamed, a candidate for New York’s 3rd Congressional District, on May 15, 2023. Courtesy of Zak Malamed's campaign

He described Santos as part of the MAGA “mishegas,” the Yiddish term for craziness, that he said has overtaken much of the Republican Party. “People don’t want the lunacy,” Malamed said. “They want normalcy. And I’m committed to bringing that to the 3rd District with fresh ideas and a fresh approach.” 

Not long after his election last November, Santos came under scrutiny for lying about his personal and work history. In addition to federal charges for campaign finance violations, he is facing congressional investigations into sexual misconduct accusations and other alleged improprieties. While on the campaign trail, Santos lied about being Jewish, falsely claiming that his grandparents fled anti-Jewish persecution during World War II. In a recent podcast interview, he continued to claim Jewish ancestry. And on an audio recording posted last week by film director Blake Zeff, who had been working on a documentary about the congressman, Santos can be heard imitating his Jewish constituents and using an expletive to complain about attending Jewish events.

Malamed said that like many Jews in the district, he was shocked to learn that his congressman “made a mockery” of his Jewish heritage. He said that if the voters elect a Jew it should be “somebody who’s actually Jewish, who understands what it’s like to have relatives who perished in the Holocaust, and who has actually dealt with the issues of antisemitism, and that’s clearly not George Santos.”  

A member of Temple Israel of Great Neck, a Conservative congregation, Malamed said his great-grandparents from his father’s side of the family emigrated from Russia and his maternal great-grandparents fled Austria during the Holocaust. His grandmother served in the IDF while in Israel before she moved to Great Neck in the late 1960s. 

A spokesperson for Malamed said that though the candidate once shared an apartment in Brooklyn with friends, he in 2019 moved back to the district, where he is registered to vote.

The other Jewish candidates who have announced their bids for the seat are Anna Kaplan, a former Democratic state senator from Nassau County who fled persecution in Iran as a girl; and Josh Lafazan, a Jewish Nassau County legislator who ran in last year’s Democratic primary and who has tussled with Santos on Twitter. Robert Zimmerman, the Jewish Democrat who lost to Santos by almost 8 points in November, has yet to announce whether he would compete for the seat. 

Democrat Will Murphy, a Democratic attorney from Farmingdale, New York, has also announced his candidacy, as has one Republican — Kellen Curry, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who worked at JPMorgan, announced his bid last month.

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