New York Republicans have selected Nassau County legislator Mazi Melesa Pilip as their nominee in the special election to replace ousted GOP Rep. George Santos, setting the stage for a competitive race in February.
County party leaders selected Pilip, an Ethiopian immigrant who served in the Israel Defense Forces, one week after Democratic leaders selected former Rep. Tom Suozzi as their nominee for the special election on Feb. 13.
Kellen Curry, another Republican candidate for the seat, told NBC News that GOP leaders informed him they had picked Pilip for the special election. Newsday first reported Pilip’s selection.
National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman Savannah Viar also confirmed Pilip’s selection as the party’s nominee.
“Mazi Pilip is a formidable candidate with a unique biography: a former IDF paratrooper and mother of seven,” the NRCC’s chairman, Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., said in a statement. “Mazi’s incredible life stands in stark contrast to career politician Tom Suozzi, who uses his office to make life better for himself instead of his community.”
Pilip clarified in a Dec. 18 interview with Jewish Insider that she served as a gunsmith with the paratrooper unit, noting, “I was in charge of all the weapons.” Her Instagram bio still described her as a “former IDF Paratrooper.”
Democrats wasted no time criticizing Pilip. “The people of NY-03 have made it clear that they want honest, responsible representation from a steady hand and a trusted leader, yet New York Republicans selected Mazi Melesa Pilip — who recently campaigned with MAGA extremist Mike Johnson and previously endorsed serial fraudster George Santos,” said House Majority PAC New York press secretary Alisha Heng.
Suozzi and Pilip will have a short window to make their cases to voters, and the race for the Long Island-based 3rd District is expected to be competitive. While Suozzi has represented the area for decades, including a stint holding a version of this congressional district, Pilip is a relative political newcomer.
During the GOP selection process, Politico reported that Pilip is actually a registered Democrat.
President Joe Biden carried the district by 8 percentage points in 2020, according to calculations from Daily Kos Elections, but Santos won it two years later, also by an 8-point margin.
Suozzi launched his first TV ad on Thursday, stressing his focus on finding “common ground.”
Santos was expelled earlier this month after the House Ethics Committee released a damning report report that found Santos appeared to break multiple federal laws in his 2022 campaign.
Santos also embellished much of his background, so local party leaders were focused on carefully vetting their potential candidates. Party leaders had interviewed more than 20 candidates and worked with an outside firm to conduct background research, a spokesman for the Nassau County GOP had previously confirmed to NBC News.
During the selection process, Politico reported that Pilip is actually a registered Democrat.
CLARIFICATION (Dec. 19, 2023, 11:21 a.m. ET): A previous version of this article mischaracterized Mazi Melesa Pilip’s role in the Israel Defense Forces. She clarified in a Dec. 18 interview with Jewish Insider that she served as a gunsmith with the paratrooper unit, not as a paratrooper.