Voters in eastern Queens and Long Island are due to make their call Tuesday in a special congressional election to replace George Santos, with Tom Suozzi and Mazi Melesa Pilip on the ballot.
The race, which has taken a deeply negative tenor, has appeared to be less a referendum on Santos’ many lies and more a test run for some of the high-profile issues — including immigration, abortion and gun safety — that could determine November’s nationwide elections.
It has also been a study in contrasts between its two candidates.
The Democratic nominee is the 61-year-old Suozzi, a Long Island lifer, former three-term congressman and polished political operator. The Republican nominee is the Ethiopian-born Pilip, 44, a registered Democrat and county lawmaker with a scant record and minimal political experience.
Pilip, who has served in the Nassau County Legislature for two years, has sought to bludgeon Suozzi over the city’s migrant crisis, describing him as soft on the border. Her campaign has branded him “Sanctuary Suozzi.”
The immigration issue may be playing to her advantage in the swing congressional district, New York’s 3rd, which covers the city’s controversial migrant mega-shelter at the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens Village.
Suozzi has said Pilip is misrepresenting his record.
“George Santos got elected by lying about his record,” Suozzi said last week at the race’s lone debate. “Ms. Pilip wants to get elected by lying about me.”
Suozzi has some significant advantages. He has a formidable campaign war chest and the firm backing of his one-time rival Gov. Hochul, who is looking for redemption after her relatively narrow victory in 2022 was blamed for Democrats’ poor showing in New York’s midterm House races. (Santos was one of four Republicans to flip New York seats in 2022.)
After Pilip delivered head-scratching remarks on abortion in the debate — asserting by turns that “every woman should have that choice” and that she is personally “pro-life” — the governor suggested that Pilip had displayed that she is not right for the district.
“I cannot explain her inconsistencies,” Hochul said at a Friday news conference. “Trying to have it both sides is just what people are sick and tired of in our politicians. She is not solidly with the women of the State of New York.”
Pilip’s evasiveness has not been limited to reproductive rights. She has also declined to make clear whether she supports a revival of America’s assault weapons ban, which lapsed two decades ago.
But she has managed to corral important endorsements down the stretch of the race, scoring support from the National Border Patrol Council and from 12 police unions, according to her campaign.
“I am honored to have earned the support of law enforcement based on my pro-police record,” Pilip said as she accepted the endorsement of the police unions on Friday. “You have my word that I will always back the blue and do everything possible to keep families safe.”
In polls released last week, Suozzi led Pilip by a few percentage points, and experts say they expect a tight finish on Tuesday. The result may be driven by which candidate better motivates their party’s voters to head to the ballot box.
Early voting ran from Feb. 3 to Feb. 11. Polls are scheduled to stay open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday.
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