Mazi Pilip, Tom Suozzi make final pitches in House race for George Santos’ seat

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NEW YORK — Mazi Melesa Pilip and Tom Suozzi made their closing cases to Long Island and Queens voters Monday, on the eve of their ultracompetitive special House election for the seat vacated by George Santos.

Pilip, the Republican nominee, argued that Suozzi, the Democrat, is soft on immigration, as Suozzi framed himself as an “antidote” to poisonous partisanship that he said is blocking progress and is personified by Pilip.

The race is weighty in both symbolism and function, providing possible insights into which way the political wind is blowing in a swing suburban district, and delivering Democrats a chance to further erode the GOP’s fragile House majority.

Both parties have invested heavily in the race. And both candidates blitzed TV airwaves ahead of Election Day.

In a Monday morning appearance on WNYW-TV, the Ethiopian-born Pilip acknowledged her limitations as a public speaker but vowed to better serve the district as an advocate for law and order.

“He’s a talker — excellent talker; he’s really good on that — I am a person of action,” Pilip told the station, referring to Suozzi, a former three-term congressman.

Pilip, a 44-year-old and fresh face in politics who has served for two years in the Nassau County Legislature, is aiming to block Suozzi’s return to the House. She has the backing of an assortment of police unions and the National Border Patrol Council.

Suozzi, a 61-year-old centrist and Long Island lifer, gave up his seat representing the district to stage a doomed run for governor in 2022.

Now, he’s in the fight of his political life to reclaim his seat, buffeted by GOP efforts to blame him for the city’s vexing migrant crisis. Pilip’s campaign has branded him “Sanctuary Suozzi” and sought to exploit anxieties that migrants in New York are driving a crime wave.

New York City’s cavernous, tent-style migrant shelter at the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center sits within the House district, which sprawls from eastern Queens out across Long Island’s tony North Shore.

There is no statistical evidence that the estimated 66,000 asylum seekers in city care are having any significant effect on the city’s crime rate, though high-profile crimes in recent days have been linked to migrants.

“He is the one responsible, and we have to hold him accountable,” Pilip, a registered Democrat, told WNYW-TV. “I’m going to Washington. I’m going to secure our border.”

Pilip’s allies have emphasized Suozzi’s past support for so-called sanctuary city policies, which limit local cooperation with federal immigration authorities. He has suggested that federal immigration authorities have not always followed local laws, but that local officials should cooperate with federal authorities when they adhere to the rules.

The former congressman, in his own Monday morning appearance on WNYW-TV, said Pilip is the wrong answer on immigration, emphasizing that she is aligned with former President Donald Trump in opposing a bipartisan legislative deal to secure the border.

“That’s appalling,” Suozzi told the station. “Don’t keep the border open and bring more migrants to New York. Make the deal. That’s what I’m about.”

The veteran politician also argued, perhaps improbably, that he is a vote for change.

“People are sick of the way Washington is running,” Suozzi said. “I want to change that and stop all the partisanship and the fighting and get people to work together.”

In the morning, Suozzi also visited St. Rocco’s Bakery in his native Glen Cove to greet locals. Pilip planned to hold a Monday evening campaign rally in Franklin Square.

Experts said the race was coming down to the wire.

The chair of the state Democratic party, Jay Jacobs, said Democrats had outvoted Republican and Conservative Party voters by about 12,000 in the early voting. “We feel good about it,” Jacobs said.

Still, Democrats are seen as more likely than Republicans to vote early, and early voting data offers few clues about how independents and conservative Democrats might be receiving the candidates.

Former Rep. Peter King, the Republican who represented a version of the district for a decade until 2003, predicted Pilip would win narrowly. He said voters seemed to have moved on from the unpopular Santos.

“The overriding issue,” King said by phone, “is a combination of immigration and crime intertwined.”

The race in New York’s 3rd Congressional District has made for a mad dash after Santos was expelled from the House in December, felled by his serial lies and a 23-count indictment accusing him of fraud.

Santos has pleaded not guilty. He said Monday that he would not vote in the special election, adding that he was “jaded as (expletive)” and that he has “no empathy for the political process.”

He added that he views Pilip as a kind person, but added that he would not mind if she lost.

“I don’t want Tom to win,” Santos said by phone. “I’m not thrilled about Mazi.”

Santos — a conservative Republican who deceived voters about his education, religion, family history, professional experience and property ownership — won the district by about 8 points in 2022.

Four days after Santos’ early December expulsion from Congress, Gov. Hochul, a centrist Democrat, scheduled the special election and put her support behind Suozzi, putting aside lingering animosity from her 2022 governor’s race with the congressman. In the bruising contest, Suozzi aggravated Hochul by describing her as an “interim governor.”

Hochul has called the special election her “top priority” and marshaled the force of New York’s Democratic apparatus behind Suozzi. She is seeking a measure of political redemption after critics blamed her narrow general election victory over Lee Zeldin for down ballot losses in 2022. Republicans flipped four New York House seats in the midterms.

Hochul has chastised Pilip’s approach to immigration and abortion and framed her as untrustworthy.

The governor has argued there are “way too many unanswered questions” about Pilip, who has delivered evasive answers when pressed on her positions on abortion and gun control. Hochul has even likened Pilip to Santos.

In an appearance on Fox News on Monday, Pilip pushed back on such comparisons.

“I am very much vetted,” Pilip, a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces, told the network. “I’m very proud of who I am.”

But she has left some of her positions unclear. In one of the more peculiar moments of the campaign, Pilip tried to walk a fine line on abortion rights at the race’s lone debate last week, saying both that “every woman should have that choice” and that she is “pro-life.”

Suozzi has urged voters to watch the feisty, policy-rich, hour-long debate before casting ballots.

“Everybody’s got to watch the debate,” he told WNYW-TV on Monday. “If you watch the debate, I win.”