Suozzi, Pilip make closing arguments ahead of bellwether Feb. 13 special election

Republican Nassau County legislator Mazi Melesa Pilip (left) and former Democratic US Rep. Tom Suozzi (right).
Photo courtesy News12

Former Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi and GOP Nassau County Legislator Mazi Melesa Pilip will face off next Tuesday in a special election for the congressional seat formerly held by ex-Rep. George Santos.

Many political observers see the Feb. 13 contest for the 3rd Congressional District — a politically purple district that covers a slice of northeast Queens and a large chunk of Nassau County — as a bellwether for several competitive House races across the Empire State this year. Flipping those seats is critical for Democrats to take back the House this year.

The race was revealed to be incredibly tight in a Thursday Newsday/Siena College poll that showed Suozzi leading Pilip 48% to 44% — a difference that falls within the poll’s 4.2% margin of error.

The candidates went head-to-head in a contentious News 12 debate Thursday night, where they threw jabs at one another over issues including the migrant crisis and abortion. The pair spent much of the proceedings shouting over one another.

Both candidates were chosen by the parties in December to run for the seat after Santos was expelled from Congress that same month — a move directly following the release of a damning House Ethics Committee report that found Santos had likely committed many campaign finance-related crimes. Santos has also been hit with 23 federal charges for allegedly defrauding voters who donated to his campaign and filing falsified financial disclosures.

Suozzi represented the 3rd District in Congress from 2017 to 2022, when he gave up his seat to unsuccessfully challenge Gov. Kathy Hochul in the latter year’s Democratic primary. Prior to his time in Congress, Suozzi served as Nassau County executive between 2001 and 2009.

The moderate former Congress member has built much of his campaign on his years of experience locally and in Washington as well as his ability to find common ground with Republicans on hot button issues. Pilip, meanwhile, has tried to paint Suozzi as a member of “The Squad” — the group of left-wing lawmakers in Congress led by US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“For you to suggest that I’m a member of the squad is just as believable as you being a member of George Santos’ volleyball team,” Suozzi said during the debate, referencing the Baruch College volleyball team Santos falsely claimed to have played on.

Pilip, a political newcomer who has only served in the Nassau County Legislature since 2022, has instead sought to highlight her background as an Ethiopian Jew who emigrated to Israel and joined the country’s military, subsequently moving to the U.S. 

During Thursday’s debate Suozzi accused Pilip of not being visible on the campaign trail, a point he has been hammering home after challenging Pilip to multiple debates that she declined.

“My opponent .. this is her first debate in the entire campaign, she hasn’t done town hall meetings, she hasn’t appeared at civic group meetings with me,” Suozzi charged.

Pilip responded that she has been out speaking with and listening to voters.

“I don’t know why you obsess about my schedule,” she said.

With the Creedmoor Psychiatric Facility migrant shelter in the district, the influx of over 170,000 newcomers to the city has become a central point of contention in the race. Pilip has charged that Suozzi, during his time in Congress, stood for “open border” policies.

“What Tom Suozzi and [President] Biden did, they totally opened the border, millions make the way, we don’t know if they are criminals, we don’t know if they are terrorists, we don’t know who they are here,” she said, during the debate.

While Pilip said she wants to “close the border,” hire more border agents, build out more of former President Donald Trump’s border wall and restrict the asylum process, she did not support a bipartisan US Senate immigration bill that included many of those items. That legislation did not make it out of the Senate in a Wednesday vote.

Suozzi slammed Pilip for not supporting the deal, saying it shows how she presents problems without providing solutions.

“Ms. Pilip points out there’s a problem, there’s a problem, there’s a problem, she has no solutions,” he said. “The reality is, I know how government works, I know how to get things done, I know who to talk to and how to stop things and how to make things happen.”