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  • Who will replace George Santos? The options are bleak.

Who will replace George Santos? The options are bleak.

New York's 3rd Congressional District remains a hot mess.

Republican candidate Mazi Pilip during her time in the IDF

The special election to fill the congressional seat vacated by George Santos is two weeks away. At long last, New York’s 3rd Congressional District will finally have a representative in Congress.

Tom Suozzi, a milquetoast Democrat who represented the district for three terms, was chosen in December to run against Republican Mazi Pilip, an Orthodox Jewish former IDF soldier, mother of seven and local GOP legislator, who was selected by the same people who brought us Santos. (She’s also a registered Democrat. Yea, you heard me.) If Suozzi pulls it out, Republicans will have a mere two-seat majority in Congress. With debates over a potential immigration bill intensifying, that’s a damn big deal. 

This election has drawn national interest as a result of the district’s infamous former congressman. One district resident told me, “The amount of postcards I am getting from out of staters is hysterical and annoying all at once.” He said he’s received urgent notes postmarked from California, New Jersey and Virginia. Yet again, Long Island is getting eyeballs for all the wrong reasons.

As a hometown girl, I’ve given Suozzi a lot of shit. In my very first post about Santos back in December 2022, I wrote this:

I’ve long argued the people of NY-03 deserve better representation in Washington, with outgoing multi-term Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi running an anemic ship since his first election in 2016. It’s a district with a lot of concentrated wealth and education that’s been neglected by an unremarkable congressman with big ambitions, but small ideas.

He also left the seat open for a Republican because of an ill-advised run for governor. And my opinion of him is not about to change. (I mean, his campaign slogan is literally “Let’s Fix This!”) But after being represented by a conman for 11 months, perhaps that’s what the Long Island and Queens district needs—especially when the alternative is a candidate with little experience who was cynically chosen as Israel is at war and American Jews face an unprecedented existential crisis. 

(Quick context: The candidates were chosen by the local Democratic and Republican parties, meaning there was no primary. Voters will cast their ballots for either Suozzi or Pilip in the special election on February 13th. Then in June, both parties will hold primaries, the results of which will determine who ends up in the general election in November. So essentially whoever wins the special will hold the job through the end of the year—which is about as long as George did. Symmetry!)

Tom Suozzi mailer

On Thursday, Pilip held a press conference outside Creedmoor psychiatric hospital in Queens where a migrant relief center was opened in August to help shelter the influx of asylum seekers to the area. It was her very first presser in the six weeks since her campaign kicked off, and some media outlets weren’t even invited. Pilip started her remarks by saying, “My name is Mazi Pilip. I’m a legal immigrant and a candidate for Congress.” Subtle.

Once she wrapped up, Suozzi held a presser of his own. In the same spot. He wanted everyone to know he’s not a regular Democrat—he’s a compromising Democrat—and supports a bipartisan compromise immigration bill. 

“Mr. Suozzi has spent precious time and advertising money trying to separate himself from the Democratic brand,” the New York Times wrote Monday. “He has opposed his party’s position on local criminal laws and taxes, called for hardening border security and his television ads (which are running on Fox News) never mention his party affiliation — a gamble in a race where he needs base Democrats to turn out.”

Yet when Suozzi was in office for the first two years of President Biden’s term, he voted with him 100% of the time. He is a textbook centrist Democrat. We see you, Tom.

Pilip, on the other hand, is most definitely a Republican, despite her voter registration. Republican billionaire Ronald Lauder gave the single largest donation to her 2021 county legislature run. She has the ringing endorsement of virtually every elected MAGA Republican in New York state. Elise Stefanik is a big fan. Her campaign used deceptively-edited photos of Suozzi to tie him to Biden. 

And like her Republican predecessor, she’s already been caught in a bit of a delicate dance with the truth: Early campaign literature advertised her as a former IDF paratrooper, but she was later forced to clarify that she was a gunsmith in a paratrooper unit. At the time of her service, women were not allowed in combat. A monumental discrepancy? I’m not a veteran, so I can’t really say. But the fact that campaign literature has changed from “paratrooper” to “solider” as a result means it’s not nothing.

Pilip mailer sent to NY-3 voters

But as I said up top, so much of this race comes down to Israel. As a dear friend who lives in the district rightly pointed out, there is no way Suozzi would vote any differently than Pilip on the issue. He’s so pro-Israel that famously meddlesome AIPAC declined to endorse a candidate in this race. He ran an ad saying he supports “Israel aid without conditions.” He went to Israel in December. And he and Pilip held a joint rally over the weekend calling for the release of the Israeli hostages in Gaza.

He’s Compromise Tom, a former member of the House Problem Solvers Caucus who loves being friends with Republicans. And as an elected official in Nassau County for decades, he fully understands that keeping the large Jewish population happy is paramount to keeping your job. Try as Pilip might, painting Suozzi as some lefty Hamas-sympathizer is something not even da Vinci could achieve. 

It would be a mistake to see this as a referendum on Santos. When I toured the district last winter—more specifically, bagel places in the district—voters seemed more disillusioned with the system in general than with the local Republican party’s failure to detect a fraud. I knew then that Democrats would still have a steep battle towards regaining this seat.  

Many will also try to interpret the results of this special election as some sort of bellwether for Biden in November. That’s also a mistake. The singular uniqueness of the district—increasingly diverse, huge Jewish population in the midst of a crisis, voted for Biden, but with a very strong local Republican Party—means it won’t be predictive of presidential or congressional results elsewhere. 

In-person early voting begins Saturday, February 3rd, and Election Day is February 13th. It will probably be uncomfortably close, with both parties sweating it out while Steve Kornacki and his mystical khakis shepherd us through the results. I’d say get psyched, but I’m too tired to joke.

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