The race to replace expelled former Rep. George Santos in the 3rd Congressional District in a special election on Feb. 13 is heating up, with accusations being thrown between Nassau County Legislator Mazi Melesa Pilip and former Congressman Tom Suozzi.
During a news conference on Jan. 17, Suozzi criticized his opponent for instigating “fear tactics” against gun safety, stating Pilip is “against common sense gun violence gun legislation” and that she has not taken a stance on assault riffles.
“I am a firm believer in the right to bear arms,” Pilip wrote in an email to the Herald. “I believe law-abiding citizens should have a route to have access to guns, but not automatic assault weapons.”
Suozzi also addressed what he referred to as an “anti-Italian attack,” which Brian Devine, a Republican staffer for Pilip, said. Devine referred to Suozzi as the “godfather of the border crisis” in a comment to the New York Post in an article published on Jan. 16. Devine alleged that Suozzi is responsible for the current southern border crisis based on his actions during his previous tenure in Congress.
In an email to the Herald, Aidan Strongreen, Pilip’s campaign manager, claimed Suozzi was using the Post article as a political tactic.
“Suozzi will do anything to try to deflect attention away from his dismal record of working hand-in-hand with Joe Biden to open our borders to illegal and unvetted migrants,” the email reads. “In Congress, Tom Suozzi voted against legislation that would have made it easier to deport and deny entry to migrants who were suspected members of dangerous gangs. Further, he has bragged about throwing ICE agents out of Nassau County.”
The statement by Devine has escalated tensions, with national and local committees flooding the airwaves with ads supporting and attacking the candidates. Suozzi, a first-generation Italian-American, strongly objected to the “godfather” remark, emphasizing his commitment to addressing Italian-American stereotypes.
Expressing his outrage to Devine’s comment, Suozzi recounted the challenges his father faced after World War II, highlighting the prejudice against Italian-Americans. He stressed the importance of respectful campaigning.
“You can call me a lot of things that are inaccurate, you can call me all kinds of names which they have throughout this campaign but why would you call me ‘the godfather?’” Suozzi asked.
“Why would you use that particular expression?”
Suozzi said the term “godfather” is a negative stereotype associated with the Mafia. He condemned Pilip’s campaign for allegedly smearing his Italian-American heritage and evoking stereotypes during the ongoing election.
Italian-American advocacy groups, including the Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations, the Italian American Action Committee, the New York State Italian American PAC, and the Order of the Sons of Italy, issued a joint statement condemning the “anti-Italian attack.” They demanded an apology from Pilip and urged her to refrain from perpetuating stereotypes.
Strongreen also criticized Suozzi’s tenure as Glen Cove’s mayor, alleging he established one of “the first migrant centers on the east coast.” Strongreen referred to a 2022 interview with the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, where Suozzi described what he called a “worker gathering spot” which he helped to establish, where unemployed immigrants could gather to learn English or a job skill if not hired as day laborers.
In the interview, Suozzi said he established the first day worker gathering spot on the East Coast to help immigrants already living in Glen Cove, saying he empathized with immigrants wanting to achieve the “American dream,” much like his father did when he first came to the United States.
“In short, Tom Suozzi and Joe Biden are responsible for the migrant crisis,” Strongreen’s wrote, “which is putting the safety of families at risk, while causing budgetary chaos for municipalities across the country.”
Devine’s remark has drawn attention to the significance of language in political campaigns. As the candidates continue to vie for the congressional seat, the controversy adds another layer to an already heated and closely watched special election.