• Sat. Apr 20th, 2024

Tom Suozzi beats Mazi Melesa Pilip in special election for George Santos’ House seat

Tom Suozzi beats Mazi Melesa Pilip in special election for George Santos' House seat


Tom Suozzi, a fast-talking, surefooted centrist Democrat, won the special congressional election on Tuesday in former Rep. George Santos’ district, according to The Associated Press, prevailing in a race centered on immigration.

In overcoming the inexperienced Republican nominee, Mazi Melesa Pilip, Suozzi chips into the Republicans’ already fragile House majority. When he takes office in the coming days or weeks, Suozzi is expected to narrow the GOP’s majority in the chamber to two votes, further weakening the unwieldy and fractious ruling Republican caucus.

Democratic candidate Tom Suozzi speaking at his election night event after winning for Third Congressional District to replace disgraced former congressman George Santos at the Crest Hollow Country Club, 8325 Jericho Turnpike, in Woodbury, New York on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. (Shawn Inglima for New York Daily News)

Shawn Inglima for New York Daily News

Democratic candidate Tom Suozzi speaking at his election night event after winning for Third Congressional District to replace disgraced former congressman George Santos at the Crest Hollow Country Club, 8325 Jericho Turnpike, in Woodbury, New York on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. (Shawn Inglima for New York Daily News)

The victory by Suozzi figures to soothe some Democratic anxieties that New York’s migrant crisis is leaving the party vulnerable in the November elections. But it may not provide a comprehensive roadmap for Democratic House hopefuls elsewhere, or spell doom for other Republicans.

The election played out on a snowy day on Long Island, and some speculated that the sloppy weather might have offered Suozzi a last-minute boost by depressing turnout on Election Day, when many Republicans prefer to vote.

Democrat Tom Suozzi is pictured entering a UPS facility in Uniondale, New York on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. (Tim Balk / New York Daily News)
Democrat Tom Suozzi is pictured entering a UPS facility in Uniondale, New York on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. (Tim Balk / New York Daily News)

Though the patch of Long Island and eastern Queens where the campaign took place seems to be tilting to the right, Suozzi carried a lifelong local’s intimate understanding of the district and political polish that made for a sharp contrast to his opponent.

The 44-year-old Pilip, an Ethiopian-born political newcomer plucked out of the Nassau County Legislature, struggled to answer basic questions about her platform, offering evasive answers when pressed for positions on topics including abortion and gun safety.

At the race’s lone debate, a frazzled Pilip insisted that abortion is a “personal decision, a personal choice” and that “every woman should have that choice.” But when pressed by Suozzi, a defender of reproductive rights, Pilip lashed out angrily and ultimately conceded, “I am pro-life.”

Congressional candidate for New York's 3rd District Mazi Melesa Pilip on February 7, 2024. (Photo by Adam Gray/Getty Images)
Congressional candidate for New York’s 3rd District Mazi Melesa Pilip on February 7, 2024. (Photo by Adam Gray/Getty Images)

On the fundraising circuit, Suozzi also appeared to far outperform Pilip, according to campaign finance disclosures. 

Pilip conceded defeat in a brief speech at her election night party in East Meadow on Tuesday, saying, “Yes we lost, but it doesn’t mean we’re going to end here.”

The result in New York’s 3rd Congressional District revives the political career of a son of Glen Cove. Suozzi, 61, previously led the waterside city as mayor, served as Nassau County’s executive and represented the district in Congress for three terms. He gave up his seat to run for governor in 2022.

His doomed campaign for governor helped pave the way to Santos’ sordid but successful 2022 run for Congress. Peddling a largely fabricated biography, Santos turned the district red in an 8-point triumph.

But before Santos was even sworn in, the news media uncovered the web of lies Santos had spun about his education, family history, professional experience and property ownership. He was later indicted on fraud charges and, in December, expelled from Congress.

After Santos’ inglorious exit, Gov. Hochul, a moderate Democrat, called Tuesday’s special election and endorsed Suozzi, putting aside lingering tension from his run against her in 2022. In the governor’s race, Suozzi had infuriated Hochul by calling her an “interim governor.”

Whatever their previous campaign contretemps, Hochul put the force of the state’s Democratic machine behind Suozzi, seeking to stave off another loss in a recent spate of Democratic House defeats in swing New York territory.

Eleven days before Election Day, Hochul told reporters that the goal of ensuring Suozzi’s victory topped her list of priorities. And though she did not campaign with Suozzi in the district — where she struggled mightily herself in 2022 — she used TV interviews and news conferences to implore voters to spurn Pilip.

Pilip, meanwhile, sought to overcome her verbal stumbles by insisting she was a doer — not a talker, like her opponent — and would deliver for Long Island and Queens in Congress. Her campaign relentlessly hammered Suozzi over the city’s migrant crisis, dredging up his past support for sanctuary immigration policies and branding him “Sanctuary Suozzi.”

Suozzi, in turn, bashed Pilip for rejecting a bipartisan border security deal, charging that she puts partisanship ahead of reaching solutions for voters. He described himself as the “antidote” to Congress’ partisan paralysis.

“My whole campaign and my whole career is about bringing people together,” Suozzi told supporters at a campaign stop in sloppy and wet Westbury on Tuesday. “That’s the change people want. They want people to work together.”

He described Pilip as “Santos 2.0.” (Santos said he would not vote for Suozzi or Pilip.)

Suozzi’s approach was not necessarily dialed to gather the approval of New York Democratic leadership, and he held President Biden at arm’s length.

He also chose to drive hard at his apparent weakness — immigration — and to try to outflank Pilip on the issue. He repeatedly declared his approach would more soundly address the migrant challenge than Pilip’s would. He argued that a vote for her was a vote for more migrants in the city.

In the days ahead of Election Day, as it became increasingly clear that the race was shaping up to be a nail-biter, Democratic strategists frequently remarked on how challenging the race was for their party, fought in an area turning increasingly red, and in the dead of winter, when casual Democrats might be least interested in turning out.

Democratic candidate Tom Suozzi speaking at his election night event after winning for Third Congressional District to replace disgraced former congressman George Santos at the Crest Hollow Country Club, 8325 Jericho Turnpike, in Woodbury, New York on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. (Shawn Inglima for New York Daily News)

Shawn Inglima for New York Daily News

Democratic candidate Tom Suozzi speaking at his election night event after winning for Third Congressional District to replace disgraced former congressman George Santos at the Crest Hollow Country Club, 8325 Jericho Turnpike, in Woodbury, New York on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. (Shawn Inglima for New York Daily News)

Another frequent, if not universal, refrain emerged in Democratic circles: If any Democrat could pull out the district, it was Suozzi. In the end, he did just that, delivering his party a major morale boost, and New York Republicans a bitter defeat.

“It’s time to find common ground and start delivering for the people of the United State of America,” Suozzi told jubilant supporters in a victory speech in Woodbury on Tuesday night that was momentarily disrupted by a protester. “Let’s take our country back from the dividers.”





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