A good brain holds data in neat filing cabinets, alphabetized and ready for recall. Others, like mine, have stuff stored every which way, in shoe boxes and scribbled notes that can’t be trusted.
As a result, I often find myself saying, “I think I remember this.” And one such memory is of a person named Dominick DaCosta.
His name slithered from my information heap when I started hearing about George Santos.
Santos is the newly installed congressman from New York who, it appears, simply made up his personal history while on the campaign trail. His lies served him well enough that he was elected. Now he’s a national laughingstock but also an example of how unscrupulous people can fool a gullible electorate.
Folks like us might say, “That could never happen here. We know a liar when we see one.”
Except, of course, we don’t. Here are a couple recent times where we let things slip:
- A newly elected congressman says the IRS plans to hire an “army of 87,000 additional agents” to harass middle-class taxpayers when he knows the agency mainly wants clerks and IT people.
- A county clerk candidate uses campaign ads with blurry security camera footage to “prove” vote tampering, when it actually does not.
I could give more examples and totally offend half our readers, but I’ll climb into my time machine instead. In other words, I check back issues of the South Bend Tribune on newspapers.com.
In the 1980s, our hottest political star in South Bend was an out-of-towner named Dominick DaCosta, who was on a track to become a county commissioner – and eventually, maybe, mayor or U.S. congressman.
DaCosta came to this community as a metallurgical engineer hired by the Bendix Corp. He became the darling of South Bend’s fiscal conservatives in 1981 by filing a remonstrance against a $4.9 million bond issue that would help South Bend buy more equipment for the police, fire, parks and street departments.
In April of that year, he filed a request to be appointed to the South Bend school board. This was during the discussion about closing the former Central High School, which was operating as a junior high, and DaCosta referred to the board president as “almost an insult to the human race.”
DaCosta then threatened a remonstrance against a state funding plan for schools because he opposed the board’s integration plans. He suggested that city police could issue tickets to drivers using buses to transport students to achieve the integration goals.
Hyperbolic rhetoric was an attention-getter then, just as it is now. The result was that DaCosta had solid backing when he received the Republican nomination for county commissioner in May 1982.
A month later, it all unraveled. Word reached the South Bend Tribune and local TV stations that DaCosta had lied on his job application at Bendix. It turned out that he didn’t have a graduate degree in engineering from Ohio State University. In fact, he had no college degrees whatsoever.
How did he respond? Initially, he lied to Republican leaders, saying he could prove the allegations were wrong. But he didn’t because he couldn’t. Then another problem emerged. The next bit of news was that “Dominick DaCosta” was a name he assumed to hide the truth of a previous criminal conviction in Ohio.
Party leaders forced his resignation from the commissioner race. In July, his supporters launched a petition drive, hoping to get him renominated. His lies, they said, weren’t that serious. Later, he was nearly nominated by a splinter group that called itself the American Party. He considered but declined.
DaCosta, whose actual name was Domingo Paul Acosta, didn’t go away. He got a job in Osceola and ran unopposed as a Republican in the May 1983 primary for one of three at-large county council seats. In the fall general election, he finished sixth of six candidates.
And that was that, almost. In 1984, he opposed raises for city officials and vowed to remind voters three years when those officials were up for re-election. But then he left town.
It’s fairly certain that he ended up in Terre Haute, if anyone’s interested.
The message here doesn’t end with Dominick DaCosta. We in the South Bend area are not immune from the waves of fast-talking outsiders. A few years after DaCosta, for example, South Bend residents started a chapter of Guardian Angels, a volunteer organization based in New York City to patrol the subways.
We don’t have subways here. But we do have plenty of residents who are won over by groups that prey on our fears and disenchantments. These groups – the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and others – have free rein because the traditional upholders of truth are no longer serving that role as effectively. I’m referring to newspapers, churches and schools.
In any case, it might be a good idea not to make fun of the 145,824 voters who fell for the lies George Santos told last summer.
We can fall too, if anyone asks us to.