Dog Fight Looms in Special Election for George Santos Congressional Seat

Dog Fight Looms in Special Election for George Santos Congressional Seat

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In his bid to represent Congressional District 3 in Long Island again, Democrat candidate Tom Suozzi has the advantage of prior House experience, but if a television commercial that aired last week is any indication, the former congressman and county executive is under pressure.

In the advertisement, Mr. Suozzi accused his Republican opponent, Mazi Pilip, of being handpicked to support the national agenda of President Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again (MAGA) movement rather than a local one.

“The Democrats are nervous,” Vince Casale, a New York political consultant, told The Epoch Times. “They’re on the defensive because Democrats are on the wrong side of the issues. So, they quickly aired this really nasty messaging to distract voters from paying attention to those issues.”

Mr. Suozzi served the district for six years as congressman before unsuccessfully running for New York governor in 2022 against Kathy Hochul, who won 53.2 percent of the vote compared to Mr. Suozzi’s 46.8 percent.

Thomas Suozzi, Democratic candidate for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from the 3rd Congressional District in New York, speaks at a news conference in Manhasset, NY, on June 30, 2016. (AP Photo/Frank Eltman)
Thomas Suozzi, Democratic candidate for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from the 3rd Congressional District in New York, speaks at a news conference in Manhasset, NY, on June 30, 2016. (AP Photo/Frank Eltman)

As a result, Mr. Suozzi is perceived to have greater name recognition than Ms. Pilip, who was elected Nassau County Legislator in 2021, and again in 2023 to represent the 10th District, which includes Great Neck, Manhasset, and Herricks.

“She has run for local office, but she’s never run for a bigger office like Congress, which is a big step upward,” Republican political operative Rob Ryan told The Epoch Times. “She is the candidate of the times.”

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Mr. Ryan served in Gov. George Pataki’s administration for 10 years and was his campaign manager when Mr. Pataki defeated Democrat Mario Cuomo.

The issues among conservatives, in particular, include bolstering law enforcement, immigration reform, commuter tax, the rising cost of living, and support for Israel over the Hamas terrorist group, which is where Ms. Pilip, as an Ethiopian American who served in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), is expected to have an advantage over Mr. Suozzi.

“She’s got a great narrative,” Mr. Ryan added. “But would Mazi [Pilip] have been chosen as the Republican nominee if October 7th hadn’t happened and she happens to be a former IDF member?”

On Oct. 7, 2023, Hamas launched a surprise land, air, and sea attack on Israel, killing at least 1,200 Israelis and taking hundreds more hostage, which began the Israel–Hamas War of 2023.

Poll results have yet to be released by either political party. However, prior elections indicate that the race between Ms. Pilip and Mr. Suozzi will be a dog fight. Both have been declared winners in their individual quests for office.

Newsday reported that Ms. Pilip collected 11,510 votes compared to Weihua Yan’s 7,690 in 2023 for Nassau County legislator. 

Mr. Suozzi won the congressional seat in 2020 by defeating the now-disgraced former Republican Rep. George Santos (R-N.J.) with 55.9 percent of the vote, before giving up his seat to mount his unsuccessful bid for governor in 2022. At the time, Mr. Santos only garnered 43.5 percent of the district’s vote before subsequently winning the November 2022 election. 

Mr. Santos vacated the position on Dec. 1, 2023, after The House voted to expel him.

Former U.S. Rep George Santos leaves the federal courthouse with his lawyer in Central Islip, N.Y. on, Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)
Former U.S. Rep George Santos leaves the federal courthouse with his lawyer in Central Islip, N.Y. on, Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

“I’m sure Democrats are polling,” Jason Weingartner, executive director of the New York GOP, told The Epoch Times. “The seat is still very difficult because it’s not a Republican-leaning seat, but there will be a robust campaign for it.”

Although the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) estimates that 11 percent of the voting population in the district are of Jewish faith, Ms. Pilip is not without detractors.

The JDCA endorsed Mr. Suozzi and a JDCA Political Action Committee (PAC) is investing in an ad campaign to mobilize Jewish votes against Ms. Pilip.

“We know the Jewish electorate can make the difference for Tom Suozzi and bring Democrats one seat closer to reclaiming the House majority,” said JDCA CEO Halie Soifer in a statement online.

As a former Republican candidate for Staten Island borough president, Leticia Remauro tells candidates to talk as much as possible about the issues. To date, only one debate, organized by News 12 Long Island, has been scheduled to take place on Feb. 8, one week before the Feb. 13 special election.

Ms. Remauro, who was Rep. Nicole Malliotakis’s (R-N.Y.) campaign manager, would like to see Ms. Pilip agree to several more.

“I always say get your issues out,” Ms. Remauro told The Epoch Times. “Tom [Suozzi] was in Congress when the economy tanked and when the migrants were coming over. So, Mazi [Pilip] has got to remind people of that fact.”

Ms. Pilip emigrated to Israel from Ethiopia in 1991 and subsequently to New York in 2005 with her husband, Dr. Adalbert Pilip, who works as a cardiologist.

Like Georgia State Rep. Mesha Mainor, Ms. Pilip switched from Democrat to Republican but reportedly without updating her voter registration record, which former Florida Congressman Lt. Col. Allen West, a Republican and retired military officer, finds interesting.

“Why would you not register as a Republican if you’re going to run as a Republican,” Mr. West told The Epoch Times. “You don’t want to seem like you’re riding some popular wave. We are seeing a lot of Democrats crossing over to be Republican.”

Former congressman and retired Lt. Col. Allen West speaks during Faith and Freedom Coalition's Road to Majority event in Washington on June 19, 2014. (Molly Riley/AP Photo)
Former congressman and retired Lt. Col. Allen West speaks during Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority event in Washington on June 19, 2014. (Molly Riley/AP Photo)

Attempts to schedule an interview with Ms. Pilip were unsuccessful.

Mr. West, who previously served as chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, is currently campaigning to lead the Dallas County Republican Party.

The Republican advantage, overall, according to former Queens GOP executive director Robert Hornak, is Democrat President Joe Biden’s record.

“Mazi [Pilip] has a great, great chance of holding that seat,“ Mr. Hornak told The Epoch Times. ”Tom [Suozzi] has to explain why he either supports or doesn’t support Biden’s policies, which is going to be very hard for him.”

One Democrat advantage is the money Mr. Suozzi has in his federal account. To date, he leads in the category of cash on hand with $58,182.35, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) data.

Ms. Pilip has zero dollars reported to the FEC because she’s never run for federal office.

“While she has been elected locally, her federal fundraising is basically starting from scratch, but I guarantee you there will be TV advertisements very soon,” Mr. Weingartner added. “We’ll certainly help in any allowable way under federal law for Mazi. We are all in.”

Detailed campaign finance information from both Ms. Pilip and Mr. Suozzi will be available after Feb. 1, when they file the required 12-Day Pre-Special Election Report with the FEC.

“There’s not a way to gauge their overall fundraising activity in recent weeks through FEC data until they submit that next report,” FEC public affairs specialist Myles Martin told the Epoch Times in an email.

When it comes to number of endorsements, Mr. Suozzi is leading.

So far, only the Republican Jewish Coalition, Reps. Anthony D’Esposito (R-N.Y.) and Nick LaLota (R-N.Y.) have announced their support for Ms. Pilip along with former New York GOP Congressman Pete King.

In addition to the JDCA, City & State New York reported that Mr. Suozzi was endorsed by 10 labor unions, 11 Long Island mayors, and the Brady PAC, which was created to uphold policies that defend gun control.

But Mr. Casale foresees accepting an endorsement from the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) will likely be Mr. Suozzi’s kiss of death.

“I don’t think any of the voters in Congressional District 3 identify themselves as socialists these days,” Mr. Casale added. “The DSA is diametrically opposed to support for law enforcement, immigration reform, the migrant issue we’re having, and the issue of support of Israel over Hamas.”

Neither the DSA nor Mr. Suozzi replied to requests for comment.

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