Op-Ed: Lessons From Suozzi Victory

What might be learned from the special election last week in a congressional district that had for years included Suffolk County? In it, Democrat Tom Suozzi handily (by 54% to 46% of the vote) defeated Mazi Pilip running on the Republican line.

The district, New York’s 3rd C.D., now covers 80% of Nassau County and the remainder Queens. For decades, this district of the House of Representatives also included Huntington and much of Smithtown and was represented by Suffolk figures including former Huntington Town Supervisor Jerry Ambro, ex-Suffolk Legislator Bob Mrazek of Centerport, and Steve Israel, previously a member of the Huntington Town Board.

Then came a messy bout of reapportionment in which state Democrats overreached in constructing a plan and there was a court-directed revision cutting Suffolk County out of the 3rd C.D.

And George Santos running on the Republican line won the seat in 2022 but was expelled last year by an overwhelming vote of House members, only the sixth member in its history to ever be kicked out. That followed an investigation by the House Ethics Committee which concluded, among other things, that Santos broke federal laws, stole from his campaign and delivered a “constant series of lies” to voters and donors. He is to face trial in U.S. District Court in Central Islip in September on a 23-count indictment.

Gov. Kathy Hochul ordered a special election for his replacement.

CBS News in its account of the contest said that with “Democrats hoping to take back the House in November,” the Democratic win, considering the district’s “moderate leanings, could be a bellwether for their chances. Democrats and Republicans alike have poured millions into the race to bombard the airwaves with TV ads. Suozzi and affiliated Democratic groups have spent $13.8 million on advertising, with nearly $6 million from the House Majority PAC. Pilip and affiliated Republican groups have spent $8.1 million on ads.”

One couldn’t turn on television for weeks in this area without being bombarded by dueling Suozzi-Pilip ads. Direct mailing in the district was massive.

As to what might be learned, “Republicans were hoping concerns over immigration would put them over the top Tuesday in a closely watched special election in New York to replace the disgraced former Representative George Santos,” noted National Public Radio. “Instead, Democrats parried the attacks and flipped the seat.” NPR said “it’s understandable that Republicans would want to try to use” immigration. “But Democrats showed they can defend themselves on this issue—by tacking to the middle. Suozzi said the border needed to be secured, called for a bipartisan compromise and supported the bipartisan congressional deal that was scuttled by Trump and the hard right. Pilip came out against the bill.”

Also, the abortion issue was a factor. Political analysts have been pointing to a vulnerability for GOP candidates on it. Suozzi TV ads emphasized that Pilip was “running on a platform to ban abortions” and used her photo with a line: “Too Extreme For New York.”

And there was experience. Newsday declared in endorsing Suozzi that he is “a tested public servant who can start the job on Day One” while Pilip “who has barely served one term in the Nassau County Legislature does not have the breadth of experience or essential knowledge of how government operates….On issue after issue, she failed to show any grasp of what’s needed to represent the district effectively.”

But the main factor, I’d say, was Suozzi being an exceptionally strong nominee.

That’s always the greatest asset for any political candidate.

He started in government in 1994, becoming the youngest person elected mayor of his hometown of Glen Cove. In 2002, he became the first Democrat elected Nassau County executive since Eugene Nickerson left office in 1971. As county executive to 2009, he went after wasteful Nassau government contracts and cast his reform gaze, too, to the north and stagnancy and lack of accountability in the New York State Legislature, and led, while county executive, a “Fix Albany” campaign. He was then elected three times to Congress from the 3rd C.D. He only left to challenge Hochul for the Democratic nomination to run for governor.

Post-victory remarks by Suozzi, known as a moderate working for bipartisan cooperation, pointed to his now seeking a “Fix Washington” approach. “The way to make our country a better place is to try and find common ground,” he said, adding: “It is not easy to do. It is hard to do.”

The special election only covers this year. The post will be on the general election ballot in November. And former President Donald Trump after the election dismissed Mazi running again, writing in all caps on the Truth Social internet platform he founded: “Give us a real candidate in the district for November.” This, although Pilip supported Trump in her run.


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