Twelve Thoughts on the Special Election to Replace George Santos
Here's what's on my mind
The Democrat running to replace the indicted and expelled George Santos, Tom Suozzi, should win. Suozzi was the congressman for the 3rd District, on the North Shore of Nassau County and in eastern Queens, through 2022, when he decided to not run for re-election and instead enter the Democratic primary for governor. That didn’t go well. After making a nice bundle in the private sector, Suozzi is back. He was the Nassau County executive in the 2000s and he is something of a household name in the district. Despite the Republican swing on Long Island, Suozzi is as good a bet as any to retake a seat that has historically been represented by a Democrat. A recent poll had him up 4 points.
Democrats have been trying to make Mazi Pilip, the Republican candidate, into something of a Santos 2.0 because she hasn’t clarified her views on a variety of issues and she’s had some IRS trouble. Pilip, who has been a registered Democrat despite serving as a Republican legislator in Nassau County, has dodged the media for most of the race. I was apparently one of the last reporters to speak to her on the telephone. I have no special powers here. I was just lucky. Is Pilip the next Santos? Not really. But she hasn’t handled the media scrutiny well. Whether she can win over enough swing voters and moderate Democrats drifting rightward remains to be seen. (She is still quite conservative, despite her party registration, which isn’t uncommon in Nassau.)
Pilip can certainly win. Democrats concede the race is going to be very close. While Suozzi is an Israel hawk, Pilip is an Ethiopian-born Israeli American who served in the IDF. She can’t be outflanked on this issue in a heavily Jewish district. Of late, the migrant influx into New York City—and, to a much lesser extent, into Long Island—has come back to haunt Suozzi. Suozzi is not a liberal, but Republicans have been blasting him anyway for being too soft on immigration. A clip of Suozzi claiming in the 2022 gubernatorial debate that he “kicked ICE out of Nassau County” has played in GOP attack ads for weeks. It has not helped Suozzi that his ally, Eric Adams, has repeatedly claimed the migrant wave is out of control and could “destroy” the city. The city is doing fine but Long Island voters who ride there once a month or less on the LIRR might feel differently.
Suozzi ran a terrible campaign for governor. I can’t quite overstate this. In 2022, Kathy Hochul, who had succeeded Andrew Cuomo after he resigned in disgrace, was running for a full term. It became apparent, rather quickly, she had locked up all of the institutional Democratic support in the state. Every real estate developer, financier, and labor union of note was cutting a very big check to her campaign. There was no actual way she was going to lose the primary. As a moderate Democrat who shared Cuomo’s ideology but not his sociopathy, she was, theoretically, vulnerable on her left, and that’s why Jumaane Williams, the public advocate, decided to run. I was hard on Williams, who ran a lackluster campaign, but Suozzi’s really was worse. Hochul took 67 percent of the primary vote. Williams won 19 percent. And Suozzi finished much worse, with a dismal 13 percent. It was a campaign without a constituency. Suozzi ran hard to Hochul’s right, accusing her, in highly personalized terms, of not being tough enough on crime. Hochul was already in the process of trying to undo the 2019 bail reforms so this attack made little sense. There were virtually no Democrats who believed Hochul wasn’t conservative enough. Suozzi punched left and went nowhere.