Democrat Playbook Tested in NY Special Election to Replace George Santos

Mazi Pilip and Tom Suozzi are campaigning for Congress.
Democrat Playbook Tested in NY Special Election to Replace George Santos
Tom Suozzi at a Feb. 11, 2024 press conference inside his Plainview campaign headquarters (Courtesy of Juliette Fairley)
Juliette Fairley

PLAINVIEW, N.Y.—When Tom Suozzi first began campaigning to replace Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) in New York’s Third Congressional District, he was concerned about the strength of the Republican machine and whether his party could match it.

The district spans Nassau County and a part of eastern Queens County.

Ten weeks into his campaign, Mr. Suozzi is finally hitting his stride ahead of the Feb. 13 special election.

Mr. Santos was expelled by Congress on Dec. 1, 2023, over ethics violations.

“We have surpassed the strength of the Republican organization,” Mr. Suozzi said during a Feb. 11 news conference at his Plainview campaign headquarters. “We’re going to win this race, and we’re going to win it handily.”

He believes that his turning point was the Feb. 8 News 12 debate against GOP candidate Mazi Pilip, a Nassau County legislator.

“I think anybody who watches the debate will vote for me,” Mr. Suozzi said. “It was just so clear as day the difference between myself and my opponent in this race. I’m suggesting that I’m a problem solver and she’s a problem maker.”

Since the debate in which the two candidates sparred over gun reform, abortion, inflation, aid to Israel, and border security, he reported that a thousand people stepped up to help his campaign on Feb. 10 by volunteering to knock on doors and make phone calls.

Another thousand volunteered on Feb. 11 and a Newsday/Siena College survey found last week that 48 percent of voters support Mr. Suozzi compared to 44 percent for Ms. Pilip. Seven percent were undecided.

“I actually thought it would be closer than it is right now, and I’m very happy that the poll showed me four points ahead,” he told journalists. “I'll be happy with a 50.1 [percent] win and I’m ecstatic about the momentum that this campaign is experiencing right now.”

Mr. Suozzi also accused Ms. Pilip of lacking transparency and lying about voting for former President Donald Trump, and he questioned why she withheld the information.

Ms. Pilip didn’t respond to requests for information about her Feb. 11 campaign event schedule.

She previously said at her debate watch party last week that Mr. Suozzi is a talker.

Mazi Pilip holds a news conference outside of Robert E. Picken Town Hall South building in Oyster Bay after casting her early ballot on Feb. 9, 2024. (Courtesy of Juliette Fairley)
Mazi Pilip holds a news conference outside of Robert E. Picken Town Hall South building in Oyster Bay after casting her early ballot on Feb. 9, 2024. (Courtesy of Juliette Fairley)
“I’m a person of action,” Ms. Pilip told her supporters. “I love to deliver. This election is about protecting our country.”

Effects of Biden Administration Policies

As a Democrat, Mr. Suozzi is disadvantaged by the immigrant crisis, which is being blamed on President Joe Biden and his administration’s policies.

He’s hoping that in the president’s State of the Union address in March, Mr. Biden will make immigration a centerpiece of his speech if the issue isn’t solved before then.

“I absolutely would’ve voted for the border bill,” Mr. Suozzi told The Epoch Times after the press conference. “The only way you can solve the border crisis is to have a bipartisan deal. One party will never get everything they want. There has to be a bipartisan compromise.”

National eyes are on the special election because the House of Representatives majority is at stake. Currently, Republicans hold a slim majority.

Federal Election Commission (FEC) data show Democrats paid $9.6 million for advertising and campaign messaging that benefited Mr. Suozzi compared to $6.8 million paid by the GOP on behalf of Ms. Pilip.

Millions Spent on TV and Digital Advertisements

Suozzi for Congress has a significant financial advantage over Mazi.

Mr. Suozzi raised $4.5 million from Oct. 1 of last year through Jan. 24, according to a filing with the Federal Election Commission. That’s more than triple the $1.3 million that Ms. Pilip raised over the same period. Mr. Suozzi had more money on hand for the stretch run of the race: $2.2 million, to $629,000 for Pilip, the filings showed.

“Suozzi can have the money,” Republican Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman told The Epoch Times. “I'd rather have the voters and the troops.”

A TV advertisement that aired during the NFL Super Bowl on Feb. 11 is expected to boost Ms. Pilip’s name just in time for Election Day.

In it, Ms. Pilip claimed that when Mr. Suozzi was Nassau County executive, he increased taxes by “hundreds of millions of dollars” and enriched his own salary.

The Suozzi for Congress campaign is fighting back with a digital ad released Feb. 11 on YouTube called “Working On It,” in which he blasts Ms. Pilip and Long Island Republicans for failing to take action to lift the State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction limit.

Mr. Suozzi boasted that he passed a restoration of the SALT deduction three times.

“When it comes to the issue of SALT, you’ve got Tom Suozzi, who’s passed it three times and who knows how to get it done,” he said. “If he goes [back] to Washington D.C., there he'll be a senior member of Congress. He gets his seniority back.”

Mr. Suozzi previously served three terms in Congress for the district.

The Rise of Nassau County GOP and Mazi Pilip

While Ms. Pilip may not be as seasoned a legislator as Mr. Suozzi, she has a track record.

The married mother of seven was elected Nassau County Legislator in 2021 and again in 2023 to represent the 10th District, which includes Great Neck, Manhasset, and Herricks.

Nassau County Republicans hold the county executive seat, the county clerk’s seat, and the district attorney’s seat.

Former U.S. Sen. Al D’Amato (R-N.Y.) credited Joe Cairo, Nassau County GOP chair, for the party’s recent success.

“The Republican Party in Nassau County has the greatest local Republican leader in the country,” Mr. D'Amato told The Epoch Times. “Joe Cairo is incredible. He has motivated people by way of his own hard work and commitment. He never stops.”

The special election is Mr. Cairo’s 54th campaign, which he says has been challenging because of the short time frame. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that there would be a special election on Dec. 5, 2023.

However, he’s convinced Ms. Pilip will win despite Mr. Suozzi’s overwhelming name recognition.

“Mazi was probably barely known outside her legislative district but she has such a compelling story,” Mr. Cairo told The Epoch Times. “She’s such a nice person. She works so very hard that we think we overcame those obstacles.”

Ms. Pilip is an Ethiopian American of the Orthodox Jewish faith who emigrated from the Horn of Africa to Israel and subsequently to the United States. She also served in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

The George Santos Factor

One of Mr. Suozzi’s talking points has been to equate Ms. Pilip to Mr. Santos, who was recommended to Mr. Cairo by New York City Councilmember Joanne Arriola who, at the time, was chairwoman of the Queens Republican Party.

“My opponent represents the same old thing,” Mr. Suozzi said on Feb. 11. “She represents exactly what’s been going on for much too long. In fact, she represents the person who held her seat before. She is Santos 2.0. We don’t want more of the same. We want change.”

Mr. Cairo accepted full responsibility for what happened with Mr. Santos.

“Shame on us. I officiated high school football for over 45 years,” Mr. Cairo said. “If I could throw a penalty flag on myself, it would be a 15-yard penalty, not a five-yard penalty. It happened once. We won’t let it happen again.”

Juliette Fairley is a freelance reporter for The Epoch Times and a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Born in Chateauroux, France, and raised outside of Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, Juliette is a well-adjusted military brat. She has written for many publications across the country. Send Juliette story ideas at [email protected]