U.S. Rep. George Santos — who remains the center of controversy around his trail of reported falsehoods — welcomed an unexpected guest to last week’s State of the Union address. Notable because of his own debunked claims surrounding how his mother’s death was tied to the Sept. 11 attacks, when instead, she was allegedly in Brazil between 1998 and 2003.
Despite that, joining Santos to hear President Joe Biden on Feb. 7 was Michael Weinstock, a former firefighter and 9/11 first responder, who suffers from neuropathy related to his heroic work more than two decades ago.
In the days following the attack on Lower Manhattan, the Great Neck resident was there at ground zero clearing rubble and searching for survivors. He was diagnosed with neuropathy — severe pain associated with nerve damage — in 2016.
Weinstock is well aware of Santos’ own claims about Sept. 11, but told reporters he accepted the congressman’s invitation to Washington because he wanted to raise awareness of the health care needs of 9/11 emergency workers — especially firefighters with neuropathy.
“This is an issue that transcends politics and speaks to my heart,” Weinstock said in a statement provided by Santos’s office. “I am a proud Democrat, and Congressman Santos is equally proud to be a member of the GOP. However, we speak with a unified voice, and we encourage the World Trade Center Health Program to include neuropathy as a ‘covered condition.’”
Although Weinstock said he didn’t vote for Santos or contribute money to his campaign, the two share a bit of a history — or a similar background, at least, in running for office.
Weinstock ran for the congressional seat now held by Santos in 2020 against then-U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi. At the time, he told the Herald he hoped to become “the first 9/11 firefighter elected to Congress, and first openly gay person to represent New York City — or Long Island — in Congress.”
On the 20th anniversary of the attacks in 2021, Santos posted a photo of Weinstock to his Instagram page thanking him for his service and “brave, heroic actions.”
Weinstock thanked Santos for his kind words and called him a “mensch,” a Yiddish word for a person of integrity. Santos previously asserted he is the grandson of Jewish refugees of the Holocaust — a claim that’s also been challenged by news outlets.
In a recent interview with SiriusXM radio host Howard Stern, Weinstock said he shared a story of Santos coming to visit him when he was ill and unable to walk. The congressman checked in on Weinstock’s health several times, urging him to give him a call if he was ever “feeling suicidal.”
During his 2022 run for Congress, Santos offered Weinstock an online crowdfunding page to raise money for his medical care, but Weinstock said he declined, fearing it would be used as part of Santos’ political campaign, according to The New York Times. Santos also promised Weinstock he would sponsor a bill in Congress to amend the Zadroga Act — which provides compensation for 9/11 first responders — and expand coverage to neuropathy, as well as to thousands of first responders not currently included in the program.
In addition to being a volunteer firefighter and EMT, Weinstock is also a former assistant district attorney in Brooklyn’s special victims unit. Weinstock told reporters he was fired from his former law firm, Mullen PC, when they learned he would be Santos’s State of the Union guest — calling the congressman “toxic” and not wanting to have any association with him.
Still, Weinstock told The Times he was touched by Santos’ concern for his condition and hoped to bring further awareness, but still found the congressman’s actions over the credibility of his past as “inexcusable.”
Casey Sabella, a Glen Cove resident and community organizer with Courage for America, said Weinstock had been a member of her private Facebook group, “Hold George Santos Accountable,” with more than 1,200 other members.
Weinstock was quite active on the social media channel, but when she and other members found out he was going to be Santos’ State of the Union guest, she said the group was “surprised, but not surprised.”
However, he crossed enough of a line to no longer be a member of her group.
“We knew the guy was kind of supportive of Santos, but you can support someone and also hold them accountable, so we left him in the group,” Sabella said. “He went to the State of the Union with this man. At that point, I’m not sure if you can engage that deeply and hold something accountable at the same time.”