Democrat Tom Suozzi wins New York race to succeed George Santos in Congress

Feb 12, 2024, 9:16 PM | Updated: Feb 14, 2024, 1:18 am

Democrat Tom Suozzi won a special election for a U.S. House seat in New York on Tuesday, coming out on top in a politically mixed suburban district in a victory that could lift his party’s hopes heading into a fiercely contested presidential election later this year.

Suozzi defeated Republican Mazi Pilip to take the seat that was left vacant when George Santos, also a Republican, was expelled from Congress. The victory marks a return to Washington for Suozzi, who represented the district for three terms before giving it up to run, unsuccessfully, for governor.

It’s unclear how long his next stint on Capitol Hill will last, as a redistricting process unfolds that could reshape the district. But for now the result narrows the already slim Republican majority in the House. And it provides Democrats a much-needed win in New York City’s Long Island suburbs, where the GOP showed surprising strength in recent elections.

Suozzi stressed his campaign trail theme of bipartisan cooperation in a victory speech that was briefly interrupted by protestors criticizing his support of Israel.

“There are divisions in our country where people can’t even talk to each other. All they can do is yell and scream at each other,” he said, acknowledging the demonstrators. “That’s not the answer to the problems we face in our country. The answer is to try and bring people together to try and find common ground.”

“The way to make our country a better place is to try and find common ground. It is not easy to do. It is hard to do,” Suozzi told supporters at his election night party in Woodbury.

Suozzi’s win will likely reassure Democrats that they can perform well in suburban communities across the nation, which will be critical to the party’s efforts to retake control of the U.S. House and reelect President Joe Biden.

Still, forecasting for November could be complicated given that turnout, already expected to be low given the abbreviated race, was potentially hampered by a storm that dumped several inches of snow on the district on election day. Both campaigns offered voters free rides to the polls as plows cleared wet slush from the roads.

In the short term, the result could be a factor in ultratight votes in the House, where Republicans hold just a 219-212 majority. In an example of how important one seat can be, House Republicans voted Tuesday night to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas by a single vote, punishing the Biden administration over its border policies.

At a polling place on Long Island earlier in the day, 59-year-old Eliezer Sarrias said he cast a ballot for Suozzi because the former congressman appeared more able to work with the opposing party to reach agreements and end congressional gridlock.

“The constituents elect our officials to perform a certain job, and we’ve really had a very stagnant congressional year,” Sarrias said after voting at a middle school in Levittown. “Even with the migrants now, we had bipartisan deal in Congress and suddenly it evaporated, like, why? Do we really need to wait for another president to come, or aren’t the issues that are pressing to everyone important at the moment?”

On the campaign trail, Suozzi, a political centrist, leaned into some of the same issues that Republicans have used to bash Democrats, calling for tougher U.S. border policies and a rollback of New York laws that made it tougher for judges to detain criminal suspects awaiting trial.

The unusual midwinter election became necessary after Santos was ousted by his colleagues in December, partway through his first term.

Santos won office in what had been a reliably Democratic district partly by falsely portraying himself as an American success story — a son of working class immigrants who made himself into a wealthy Wall Street dealmaker. But many elements of Santos’ life story were later exposed as fabrications, and he was indicted on multiple charges including allegations he stole money from Republican donors. He has pleaded not guilty.

With no time for a primary before the special election, Democrats nominated Suozzi, a political centrist well known to voters in the district.

Republican leaders turned to Pilip, a relatively unknown candidate with a unique personal backstory. Born in Ethiopia, she migrated to Israel as part of Operation Solomon and served in Israel’s defense forces before eventually moving to the U.S. and winning a seat in Nassau County’s legislature in 2021.

Pilip conceded the race and said she congratulated Suozzi in a phone call Tuesday night.

“Yes we lost, but it doesn’t mean we are going to end here,” Pilip told supporters at her election watch party.

Biden’s campaign manager was quick to link the victory to the upcoming presidential race: “Donald Trump lost again tonight. When Republicans run on Trump’s extreme agenda – even in a Republican-held seat — voters reject them,” Julie Chavez Rodriguez said.

Trump responded to the result in a post on his social media site Truth Social, calling Pilip a “very foolish woman” who was “running in a race where she didn’t endorse me and tried to ‘straddle the fence,’ when she would have easily WON if she understood anything about MODERN DAY politics in America.”

The short campaign was dominated by issues — abortion, immigration and crime — that are expected to shape crucial suburban races nationwide in this year’s battle for control of Congress.

Despite being an international migrant once herself, Pilip hammered Suozzi over an influx of asylum-seekers into New York City, accusing Democrats and Biden of failing to secure the U.S. southern border.

In response, Suozzi spent much of the campaign talking about the need to strengthen border policy, pointing out times when he bucked his own party on the issue while in Congress. In the final stretch, Suozzi said he would support a Biden has made.

Suozzi counterattacked Pilip on abortion, saying she couldn’t be trusted to protect abortion rights in places like New York where it remains legal.

Pilip said she is personally against abortion but wouldn’t force her beliefs others and would oppose any attempt by Congress to impose a nationwide ban. She has also said mifepristone, an abortion medication, should be available nationally.

Both candidates expressed unwavering support for Israel in its conflict with Hamas, even appearing side-by-side in an unusual joint event intended to convey solidarity.

Democrats and Republicans will get a chance to fight over the congressional seat again in November’s general election, though the battleground may look different.

That’s because the state’s congressional districts are set to be redrawn again in the next few months because of a court order. Democrats, who dominate state government, are widely expected to try to craft more favorable lines for their candidates.

New York is expected to play an outsize role in determining control of Congress this year, with competitive races in multiple contests in the suburban and exurban rings around New York City.


AP reporter Philip Marcelo in Levittown contributed.

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Democrat Tom Suozzi wins New York race to succeed George Santos in Congress