In the race to replace George Santos, New York’s migrant crisis looms large

One is a former three-term Democratic Congressman and failed gubernatorial candidate. The other is an Ethiopian-born, former Israeli Defense Force paratrooper and political newcomer whose life story appears almost as compelling as the one dreamed up by the disgraced fantasist she is running to replace.

Democrat Tom Suozzi and Mazi Pilip, a Republican, are vying to take George Santos’ seat in New York’s 3rd congressional district in a high-stakes special election on 13 February that could have major implications in Washington DC.

Should Mr Suozzi regain the seat he vacated in 2021, paving the unlikely path for Santos’s success, it would shave the Republican majority in the House of Representatives to just two votes.

The two candidates have largely steered clear of any mention of their parties’ historically unpopular leaders in campaign adverts, while heavily focusing their message on border security and New York’s migrant influx.

Mr Suozzi, 61, has expressed criticism of Democrats while trying to portray himself as tough on the border and crime.

Ms Pilip, a 44-year-old mother of seven who entered local politics in 2021, has cast herself as a moderate Republican. She recently declined to defend Donald Trump in an interview with Jewish Insider, and has pledged not to support a national abortion ban.

Polling shows the race will be tight. A December survey from Emerson College Polling/Pix11 showed Mr Suozzi with 45 per cent of registered voters, while 42 per cent of voters preferred Ms Pilip.

Whoever wins, the district that became a national punchline thanks to its scandal-plagued, federally indicted former representative is ready to move on from the long, tawdry shadow of George Santos.

Ms Pilip was selected as the GOP candidate in mid-December after an exhaustive vetting process by New York Republicans.

She has maintained a relatively low-profile ever since, and her campaign did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

Six weeks after launching the campaign, she held her first press conference in the parking lot of the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens on 26 January.

The site was carefully chosen as it has been home to a migrant shelter housing around 2,000 undocumented men since August.

Ms Pilip, who was elected to New York’s Nassau County Legislature in 2021, invited just a few local select news outlets, as Politico noted.

“My name is Mazi Pilip. I’m a legal immigrant,” she said in opening remarks, according to Politico, before running through a four-minute prepared speech.

She was flanked at the conference by New York Republican House member Anthony D’Esposito, who spoke for three times longer than she did.

Tom Suozzi is running on a platform of being tough on border security amid the unprecedented influx of migrants into the New York’s 3rd Congressional District

Mr Suozzi “gate-crashed” the event, and held his own press conference immediately afterwards to try to counter her narrative on the migrant influx.

The tactic highlighted a curious feature of the by-election. Mr Suozzi, a quasi-incumbent who represented the 3rd district for six years before resigning in 2021 to run for governor, has taken on the mantle of underdog, turning out for press conferences and public events throughout the campaign on a daily basis.

“And Mazi who hasn’t run for Congress before is behaving more like the incumbent and not wanting to give the challenger opportunities or airtime to confront her,” Grant Lally, a local attorney and publisher of the North Shore Leader, told The Independent.

The timing of the by-election may work to Ms Pilip’s advantage, Mr Lally believes, due to the perception that Democrats are responsible for the migrant crisis in New York.

Six weeks into the campaign, Mazi Pilip has largely allowed surrogates and Republican Party officials to make her case

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