With the special election to find the replacement for fallen U.S. Rep. George Santos entering its final weeks, all eyes have turned to the two candidates: Tom Suozzi and Mazi Melesa Pilip.
Suozzi, a well-known figure in the district for decades — and the Democrat who held the seat before Santos — has frequently described himself “a talker,” citing it as one of his greatest strengths.
Pilip, however, is still quite new to the political scene, and wasn’t widely recognized ahead of being selected by Republicans to represent them in the race, despite spending the past two years on the Nassau County Legislature.
Typically, a candidate seeking to make themselves better known clamor for public debates, while the one who already has name recognition resists it. But in this particular race, it’s been the opposite.
Suozzi says he and Pilip have been invited to 11 such debates — several televised — but Pilip has only agreed to participate in one: Feb. 8, five days before the election and after early voting has already started.
“She’s hiding,” the former congressman told reporters during a recent news conference. “She refuses to tell us anything of detail, and she refuses to debate me or appear in public in front of the ladies and gentlemen of the media.”
When he sat down with Herald reporters last week, Suozzi argued that if anyone should be turning down debates, it should be him. He believes Pilip is relying on “the Republican machine, which is very strong in Nassau County” to gather support for her, rather than letting voters get to know her through public debates.
“She should be clamoring for debates, to get people to find out who she is,” Suozzi said. “She’s hiding behind (the party) and hoping that she’ll win the same as the Republicans have won everything else on Long Island.”
Pilip has a very different take. She sat down with the same Herald reporters this past week, telling them that although debates are “very important” to the election process, but because of the truncated nature of the special election, she “didn’t have much time to do” them.
Pilip only found out that she would be the Republican candidate a little more than a month ago, she said, and the county legislator needed to devote more time to raise money and meet more potential constituents. Suozzi “knew he would be running way before me,” she added, which gave him more time to potentially participate in debates.
Pilip was adamant voters could get to know her through other means, which she believes is more effective than debating her opponent.
“I’m trying to raise money,” she said. “I’m trying to meet — and meeting — a lot of people, a lot of events, a lot of small groups, synagogues and communities calling me to come to meet. I do not have that much time to debate. I have one debate. I’m looking forward (to) that one, Feb. 8.”
Pilip argued voters knew where she stood on the key issues such as the state and local income tax deduction cap, the migrant crisis, Israel, and other hot-button issues. Voters, in her opinion, didn’t need to see more than one debate between her and Suozzi to know who to vote for.
“I’m very confident that I’m going to win this election, because people know where I’m standing on the issues that matter to the (3rd) District residents,” Pilip said. “I’m engaging myself as much as possible to the public.”