GOP candidate keeps a low profile in race to replace ex-Rep. George Santos

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By Dan Sears

As candidates around the country kick their campaigns into high gear with control of the House of Representatives on the line in November, the Republican candidate running to replace ex-Rep. George Santos has largely kept a low profile ahead of next month’s special election.

The race to replace Santos in the February election is being watched as an early test for both parties in a district President Joe Biden won in 2020 by eight points, but where Republicans have made major gains in local elections in 2022 and 2023. The winner also stands to affect the near-term balance of power in the U.S. Congress where Republicans are clinging to a razor-thin majority.

While Democrat Tom Suozzi is traversing New York’s 3rd Congressional District to bolster support from the voters he used to represent in Congress, Republican candidate Mazi Pilip has kept her schedule largely under wraps, appearing at events with party officials, avoiding her opponent, and undecided voters, on the campaign trail.

Pilip’s low public profile is proving fodder for Suozzi’s campaign, which is chiding her for “ducking” candidate forums and debates, including one Wednesday morning held by several chambers of commerce on Long Island. Pilip’s campaign said she plans to appear with New York City Councilmember Vickie Paladino at the American Legion Hall in Whitestone, Queens, later in the day.

Her campaign maintains that the Nassau County legislator is running hard, but her lack of visibility in the district — which spans from eastern Queens through the north shore of Long Island — is leading to head-scratching and frustration among some voters who are determined to get to know the candidates before the special election, especially following the scandals that plagued Santos over his ever-evolving and fictitious background.

Doug Mittler, 63, a sports statistician in New Hyde Park, attended what was initially supposed to be a debate between Suozzi and Pilip organized by the Lakeville Estates Civic Association. It turned into a meet and greet when only Suozzi showed.

Mittler described himself as a “highly disenchanted” Republican party-line voter, who was still deciding who to support in the upcoming special election.

He said the ongoing migrant crisis and local landlord and tenant issues were among his top concerns, but “quite honestly” wasn’t sure where Pilip stood on the issues “because she’s not been here,” Mittler said.

The association’s president, Bill Cutrone, said he invited both candidates last month to a debate in front of his organization, which he says is the largest civic association on Long Island with 1,300 annual paid members representing some 1,800 homes and businesses.

“We decided that this was a very important issue for the residents of the 3rd Congressional District because in the last year and a half, we have not really had a congressperson representing our area,” said Cutrone.

Cutrone said he’s looking for a federal representative who can help restore mobile health services for veterans that stopped during the pandemic.

Initially, staff for both Pilip and Suozzi agreed to the event scheduled for last Thursday night. But as the date approached, Pilip’s campaign told Cutrone that she could not attend. The campaign told Cutrone there had been a scheduling snafu since he reached out to her government office and not the campaign. She had a fundraiser scheduled for that night.

“If he did reach out, the person did not have the right to agree to it. It was not appropriate. It’s not the same calendar,” campaign spokesperson Brian Devine told Gothamist.

Still, Devine insisted that Pilip is campaigning hard across the district.

“She’s all over the place,” he told Gothamist, pointing to a recent interview with Spectrum NY1 that aired Friday and social media posts on X that showed her at private events, including one last week at the Milleridge Cottage in Jericho and at a Nassau County GOP kick off event on Sunday at the Long Island Marriott.

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Despite Pilip’s absence, Suozzi still showed up for the civic association event at a community center in New Hyde Park. The audience was comprised of roughly 75 people including a handful of reporters and a young Republican operative filming the event, who Suozzi acknowledged to the audience.

In his opening remarks, Suozzi said voters are concerned about a variety of issues, such as the economy, immigration, climate change, the conflict in the Middle East and war in Ukraine, noting that the district needed a representative who can work across the aisle to come up with solutions.

“I’m not running Democrat versus Republican,” Suozzi said. “I’m running as ‘who’s going to try and get things done versus what we see in Washington right now with everybody just fighting with each other.’”

He emphasized his position as a centrist candidate, a one-time leader in the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus in Congress, who was committed to working with Republicans to address issues like removing the cap for state and local income tax deductions.

“If I go back to Congress, that will continue to be my number one issue because in 2025, that cap expires and there will be people that try and put it back in place,” said Suozzi.

When asked how he would address immigration, Suozzi began his answer by citing a 2019 NYTimes op-ed he wrote with former Long Island Rep. Pete King, a Republican. He said their idea then was to both secure the border and treat people like human beings, “especially people that have been here for decades.”

A man in the audience wearing a “We the People” hat interrupted Suozzi to say that Democrats were responsible for problems at the border.

“We’ve been fighting about this issue in the country since Ronald Reagan,” Suozzi replied. “We have not had a border solution, there’s not been a single compromise since 1986,” he added, insisting both parties need to come together to make a deal. “People are sick and tired of this fighting. They don’t want to hear it anymore.”

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The man in the audience, who declined to give his name after the event citing privacy concerns, echoed the frustration of other voters and the event organizer that Pilip was not there to present an alternative. “I wish the other person would have showed up, Mazi Pilips [sic]. Wish she would have showed, too.”

Suozzi supporters have turned Pilip’s lack of public campaigning into a talking point while they hit the campaign trail. During an event last week in Sea Cliff on the north shore of Nassau County, where several environmental groups endorsed Suozzi, one of Pilip’s colleagues in the Nassau County legislature said she was right when she described herself as “not a talker” to the Long Island Press.

“As someone who has sat about 10 feet away from her for the last two years, I can back that statement up,” said Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, Minority Leader in the Nassau County Legislature. “I think she has spoken maybe three or four times, no exaggeration, during the last two years and that is not what we need right now.”

DeRiggi-Whitton said voters need someone who understands how government works and will speak up to bring resources back to the district. “There’s no way we’re gonna get that representation from his opponent.”

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