Josh Lafazan’s winning streak began in the first grade when he was elected student representative at Walt Whitman Elementary School.
He was senior class president at Syosset High School the same year he secured a seat on the district’s school board. Then, at 23, he became the youngest-ever elected member of the Nassau County Legislature, where he still sits today, now serving his third term representing parts of the North Shore.
“I fell in love with public service when on the student council,” Lafazan said. “I love representative government. From my very first day on the school board, I loved public service, making a difference for others. Never did it cross my mind that I would pursue anything else.”
But Lafazan’s winning streak came to an end last August when Robert Zimmerman defeated him in the Democratic primary for congress — a seat ultimately won by Republican George Santos. That loss was surreal for Lafazan. And it hurt.
Losing the primary was tough. But seeing George Santos ultimately victorious was even harder.
“I was outraged when I heard he won,” Lafazan said. “When I ran as a teenager, I had to have every ‘I’ dotted. There was such level of scrutiny. He’s the long lost brother of Anna Delvey,” referring to the Russian-born German con artist who posed as a wealthy heiress.
When it was clear he would lose the primary, Lafazan’s first order of business was to contact his more than 200 teenaged interns. Likening them to “little brothers and sisters,” Lafazan wanted them to know they did a remarkable job working on his campaign, and how proud he was of them.
But most of all, he wanted to teach them how to lose.
“They needed to see how we handle loss gracefully,” Lafazan said. “I taught them that when you lose, you hold your head up high. You show grace in defeat, and concede. I think that was the most important lesson these kids learned that night.”
As for how he felt, Lafazan said the evening remains a blur. He does remember going to a diner with his campaign workers at midnight to commiserate. No one could understand how he lost since they were up in their internal polling the day before the election.
The next morning, Lafazan awoke early, calling everyone who contributed to his campaign — from those who donated, to the people who put out lawn signs. There were hundreds of calls to make, he said, ultimately taking a week to complete.
In between, Lafazan had to answer calls from media, his friends and family. It was great to have the support, he said, but telling the same story over and over again — and expressing the same gratitude — was emotionally taxing.
“I was personally exhausted by Labor Day,” he said. “That’s when I realized it was over. It was like going from 100 mph to zero.”
The day after the election, Lafazan went back to work in Mineola, showing his constituents that although he lost one office, it didn’t mean he wasn’t grateful for the other one he already had.
One of the best kept secrets in running for office is what has to be done when the campaign is over, and the candidate has lost. The following week, Lafazan spent his time preparing to move out of his Plainview campaign office. His staff had all either gone back to college or left for other jobs.
He only had his campaign manager, Chase Serota, to help move everything out.
“There were so many volunteers, so there were so many tables, desks, posters, beanbag chairs,” Lafazan said. “Chase and I put all of it in a massive U-Haul. Then, as we were driving down Jericho Turnpike, the door came open.”
He also contacted Zimmerman, committing to host a fundraiser on his behalf.
Lafazan prefers to be busy. Hecticness and the business of the day is a distraction for him. So, he set his mind to doing all of the things he was unable to do while campaigning.
He read historical literature — one of his passions. He went running and exercised every day.
And he learned transcendental meditation.
People have asked Lafazan if he’s ever considered getting out of politics. His answer? No.
Learning about Santos winning the congressional seat he had campaigned for was a mixture of frustration and anger for Lafazan. But he wasn’t surprised.
Democrats across the island didn’t effectively message on public safety, crime and the economy.
As a Democrat in a district populated mainly with Republicans, Lafazan heard often that his constituents wanted a plan. And Democrats weren’t providing one, or for the most part even acknowledging the problems existed.
Although he did not know much about Santos, Lafazan knew he did not like him.
“This was someone who, on the record, had likened abortion to slavery,” Lafazan said. “Who had bragged about being at the Capitol on Jan. 6. Who had made incredibly inflammatory statements about multiple groups."
“That this person with this background was our congressman-elect, it didn’t sit well with me.”
His anger at his party’s loss turned to outrage when he read The New York Times story claiming Santos had fabricated many aspects of his life — from his education, to his work history, even his family. Lafazan hosted his first news conference about Santos the next day, and has had 10 more since — his most recent one on Tuesday.
“I never thought I’d be still having them, but this has gotten so morally depraved,” Lafazan said. “My constituents keep calling my office and they are Republicans. They want me to speak up. They want him held accountable. The Republicans who voted for him are angry, and really hurt by what he’s done.”