fact check

Can Ben Platt Actually Run for State Senate in The Politician?

Not so fast, Ben Platt. Photo: David Giesbrecht/Netflix

Spoilers ahead for The Politician and the New York State constitution.

The Politician is a truly bonkers show. A show so bonkers that by the time Judith Light shows up in the season finale as Dede Standish, the Speaker of the New York State Senate, flanked by her chief of staff Bette Midler, you’re just nodding along like, Yes, this is happening. Sure! As the finale reveals, a Democratic senator-elect from Texas has invited Standish to join his yet-to-be-announced presidential campaign as vice-president. Okay! Which means she’s not putting any muscle into running for reelection for her current position, leaving space for a young, unknown challenger full of ideas and charm to wedge his way in there.

Enter Payton Hobart (Ben Platt), the politician of The Politician, who ends the season announcing his campaign for Standish’s State Senate seat. After an hour-long finale in which we learn he ended up at NYU after Harvard rescinded his acceptance, he’s since developed a drinking problem, and he spends his nights playing piano at Marie’s Crisis. Sure!!! Oh, and did I mention Hobart’s friends-slash-advisers have uncovered what they believe to be Standish’s Achilles’ heel … her secret three-way marriage. See? This show is the definition of a lot.

Anyway, I’m spiraling. Back to Hobart’s run for State Senate. If The Politician occurred in a world even remotely resembling our present reality, his political aspirations would already be dead in the water. When he opens the episode vamping at Marie’s about what it means to be a New Yorker, he mentions he moved to the city three years earlier. (Then he does a full-on performance of “Vienna,” which I will be discussing with my therapist imminently.) Assuming he filed his paperwork immediately upon moving from California to New York — and, let’s be honest, Payton Hobart would be the kind of person to get a new license within that required 30-day window after you move — this means three years is the maximum length of time he’s been a resident of the state. A spokesperson for the New York Board of Elections told me that would disqualify Hobart from running.

“I don’t want to comment on a TV show I have not seen, but for New York State Senate, which is different from United States senators, you have to be a citizen, you have to be 18 years of age, and you have to be a resident of the state for five years and a resident of the district for 12 months immediately preceding election,” she said, noting the requirements are the same for the New York State Assembly. “Part of that comes from the New York State Constitution and the other part is the Public Officers Law.” (She also asked if I’d recommend The Politician. “Uh, it’s definitely an insane show,” I answered.)

Hobart does meet some of the requirements. Being a citizen? Being 18? Being a resident of the district where you’re running for 12 months immediately preceding the election? Check, check, and check, since I’m going to assume Hobart isn’t changing his residential status to go home to California for the summer. Given that his billionaire father disowned him in favor of Hobart’s twin brothers who tried to commit patricide and that his mother, Gwyneth Paltrow, is finding her bliss in, uh [checks notes], Bhutan.

But that still leaves the problem of the five-year-minimum residency rule. It appears to already be an election year. When Hobart’s perpetually suit-clad friend McAfee arrives at Standish’s office for an internship, she is tasked with mailing out flyers. “The election is November 6 and we want these in the mail the first week of October,” she’s told. “You’ve got time.” It seems unlikely that a candidate like Dede Standish, who has faced no real competition in years past, would bother putting in a years-early effort for the election. But when during election year is it?

Alas, the scenery and wardrobe choices in the finale aren’t totally indicative. In the first few scenes, there are no leaves on the trees and the sidewalks have a damp glisten. The cast is clad in coats and hats and turtleneck sweaters. When Hobart visits Harvard, again wearing a scarf and light jacket, the campus still has green grass. During a walk in the park, everybody is wearing coats, it’s drizzling, and the trees are dotted with distinctly brown and dead leaves. Which leaves us a few options. Either it’s late spring of election year, which seems unlikely given even the most incompetent intern wouldn’t need six months to affix labels to 300,000 mailers. Or … it’s September. (But September in a world where September is still autumnal and temperatures aren’t consistently 90 degrees and wearing wool is not a painful thing to do.) Either way, it’s impossible for Hobart to hit the five-year residency mark and make his run legitimate.

Can Ben Platt Really Run for State Senate in The Politician?