Nassau Legis. Mazi Melesa Pilip was named the Republican nominee in a...

Nassau Legis. Mazi Melesa Pilip was named the Republican nominee in a special election for the 3rd Congressional District seat on Dec. 15 in Massapequa. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Mazi Melesa Pilip had spent two quiet years in the Nassau Legislature, co-sponsoring bills to deter antisemitism and car thefts, securing funds for villages and issuing proclamations honoring various residents, before Republicans announced her as their nominee in a special election for New York's 3rd Congressional District.

Pilip spoke far less than her colleagues on the legislature's horsehoe-shaped dais in Mineola, according to meeting transcripts. A registered Democrat who was elected on the Republican line in 2021, she stuck with Republicans when voting on issues that ranged from a controversial redrawing of legislative maps to bipartisan support of a proposed casino.

Pilip's tenure has been typical for first-term county legislators, her colleagues say. But it leaves her with a record that is conspicuously thinner than that of her opponent, Democrat Tom Suozzi, who over three decades has been Glen Cove mayor, Nassau County executive and held the 3rd District seat for six years before leaving it in 2022 to run for governor. The winner of the Feb. 13 election will serve out the remainder of expelled Rep. George Santos’ two-year term and would need to run again in November for a full term.

Pilip, 44, of Great Neck maintains she has been effective in Nassau's 10th Legislative District, distributing county grants for police departments to purchase speed radar signs and license plate readers, and for the restoration of a village hall. 

She introduced, along with other lawmakers, two bills that passed unanimously: one to document sales of catalytic converters following a surge in car thefts and another to create a task force on antisemitism. Her proclamations honored a county police officer who has ALS and an 11-year-old spelling bee finalist. She has served as chair of the Towns, Villages & Cities Committee and vice chair of the Health & Social Services Committee.

Pilip's signature legislative accomplishment, she said, is approving a deal for Nassau to transfer county property to the Great Neck Park District for more park space.

Republicans said they vetted Pilip thoroughly and selected her in part because of her back story as an Ethiopian-born, Israeli-raised veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces. They would not share the results of their research but said they were confident in the veracity of her story. 

The party has made significant gains with Jewish voters in her North Shore district in recent years and Pilip, who is Orthodox Jewish, has become increasingly vocal in her support for Israel since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October.

"It's a big concern in the 3rd Congressional District," she said in an interview. "I've been very much engaged the last two years, and especially now."

Richard Nicolello, the legislature's Republican presiding officer, said Pilip's rise has been "relatively quick." Other candidates vetted for the seat also lacked lengthy public records. 

"It does happen — when the moment is right and the person is right, it comes together like that," Nicolello said.

Joseph Cairo, the Nassau Republican chairman, acknowledged Pilip's limited experience but defended her selection. "When you look at her record, you don't just look at two years — you look at her life experience," he said. 

Analysts say her brief tenure allows Suozzi to argue that voters should choose someone with more experience. Santos was not widely known before he was elected in November 2022 and then admitted fabricating much of his back story.

Voters have "already been burned, so to speak, with an unknown entity," said Lisa Parshall, a professor of political science at Daemen University in upstate Amherst.

On the other hand, Parshall said, Pilip's short record may be helpful to Republicans.

"There's not a lot there that they can find for the negatives and can tell a clear narrative of the positives," Parshall said.

Pilip, who has said she worked as director of operations at her husband's Smithtown-based medical clinic before entering politics, was reelected to the legislature for a second term on Nov. 7.

Republicans had not run many competitive candidates in the 10th District or much of North Hempstead Town before she defeated Great Neck Democrat Ellen Birnbaum, a four-term incumbent, in 2021.

At her oath of office ceremony in January 2022, she noted nonpartisan issues that often take priority in county governing. "There is no Republican or Democrat way to fill a pothole or revitalize a downtown," she said. "It is about caring.”  

Tax relief, property reassessment and fighting antisemitism were her top priorities, she said. 

Nassau has kept the same property tax levy over the past two years and has not updated how properties are assessed — a decision that creates inequities in the property tax burden.  

Pilip has been a reliable vote for Republicans, who hold a 12-7 majority on the legislature.

In February, she voted in favor of new Republican-drawn legislative maps that took effect Nov. 7 as part of the once-per-decade redistricting process. The Nassau County Democratic Committee and the New York Civil Liberties Union have filed lawsuits, alleging the new districts favor Republican candidates, limit competition and dilute the voting power of communities of color. 

In May, Pilip voted in favor of a 99-year lease that GOP County Executive Bruce Blakeman's administration reached with Las Vegas Sands to allow a proposed $4 billion casino resort at Nassau Coliseum. 

In early December, Pilip joined Republicans in approving Blakeman's request to set aside $10 million in federal coronavirus relief aid to pay for events celebrating the county's 125th anniversary. Democrats opposed it, arguing the funds should go to social and mental health services. 

Pilip has charted a course similar to other junior lawmakers in a chamber governed by seniority in both parties. She often waits for senior members to speak first, according to a review of thousands of pages of legislative transcripts. 

“On the dais, she doesn’t come across as overly partisan," said Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park). "When she speaks, she's deliberate and makes her point very well."

Legis. Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove), the incoming minority leader, said: "She's a brand-new legislator. She's really completing her first term and, typical of some first-term legislators, she seems to be very quiet and she has not asked many questions." 

A review of two years’ worth of transcripts shows Pilip speaks much less frequently than her colleagues. At many meetings, the only words she said into her microphone were “here" during roll call attendance and “aye” during vote tallies.

That made some statements stand out all the more.

Pilip expressed dismay at the tone of a 2022 legislative hearing on Blakeman's appointment of financier Matthew Bruderman as head of the board overseeing Nassau University Medical Center. 

Bruderman had been captured on tape at a hospital board meeting threatening to “mow down” political foes and distinguishing between “good racism” and “bad racism." 

At the end of the meeting, Pilip called the exchanges between him and Democratic lawmakers “out of control.”

“Maybe I’m new, but it was very hard to watch,” she said. She said she would support Bruderman's appointment but warned him “to be more careful when he chooses to say something, because we have to be sensitive about our words.”

Pilip has called for recruiting more police academy cadets of color and has suggested the department offer test-prep for prospective candidates.

In April 2022, Pilip told Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder that leaders needed to be more “creative" in their recruitment efforts. “Clearly something is not working well with this. We can do better,” she said. “For me, it doesn't make sense. I think it's time [to] question ourselves.”

But at a later hearing, Pilip grew frustrated with speakers who said Nassau's police reform efforts were moving too slowly.

“What I would like to hear … is more positive feedback coming from the community,” she said. “Because just to complain ‘everything is bad’ is so wrong. Those people are out there protecting our community, putting their life out there. What about saying ‘thank you?’ ”

Mazi Melesa Pilip had spent two quiet years in the Nassau Legislature, co-sponsoring bills to deter antisemitism and car thefts, securing funds for villages and issuing proclamations honoring various residents, before Republicans announced her as their nominee in a special election for New York's 3rd Congressional District.

Pilip spoke far less than her colleagues on the legislature's horsehoe-shaped dais in Mineola, according to meeting transcripts. A registered Democrat who was elected on the Republican line in 2021, she stuck with Republicans when voting on issues that ranged from a controversial redrawing of legislative maps to bipartisan support of a proposed casino.

Pilip's tenure has been typical for first-term county legislators, her colleagues say. But it leaves her with a record that is conspicuously thinner than that of her opponent, Democrat Tom Suozzi, who over three decades has been Glen Cove mayor, Nassau County executive and held the 3rd District seat for six years before leaving it in 2022 to run for governor. The winner of the Feb. 13 election will serve out the remainder of expelled Rep. George Santos’ two-year term and would need to run again in November for a full term.

Pilip, 44, of Great Neck maintains she has been effective in Nassau's 10th Legislative District, distributing county grants for police departments to purchase speed radar signs and license plate readers, and for the restoration of a village hall. 

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Mazi Melesa Pilip, the Republican nominee in a Feb. 13 special election for the 3rd Congressional District, has had a quiet two-year tenure on the Nassau Legislature.
  • Pilip has introduced, with colleagues, two bills that passed unanimously to deter car thefts and antisemitism. Top accomplishments, she said, included securing county funding for local villages and approving a deal for Nassau to transfer property to the Great Neck Park District for more park space.
  • A review of two years’ worth of legislative meeting transcripts shows Pilip speaks much less frequently than her colleagues and has been a reliable Republican vote.

She introduced, along with other lawmakers, two bills that passed unanimously: one to document sales of catalytic converters following a surge in car thefts and another to create a task force on antisemitism. Her proclamations honored a county police officer who has ALS and an 11-year-old spelling bee finalist. She has served as chair of the Towns, Villages & Cities Committee and vice chair of the Health & Social Services Committee.

Pilip's signature legislative accomplishment, she said, is approving a deal for Nassau to transfer county property to the Great Neck Park District for more park space.

Republicans said they vetted Pilip thoroughly and selected her in part because of her back story as an Ethiopian-born, Israeli-raised veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces. They would not share the results of their research but said they were confident in the veracity of her story. 

The party has made significant gains with Jewish voters in her North Shore district in recent years and Pilip, who is Orthodox Jewish, has become increasingly vocal in her support for Israel since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October.

"It's a big concern in the 3rd Congressional District," she said in an interview. "I've been very much engaged the last two years, and especially now."

Richard Nicolello, the legislature's Republican presiding officer, said Pilip's rise has been "relatively quick." Other candidates vetted for the seat also lacked lengthy public records. 

"It does happen — when the moment is right and the person is right, it comes together like that," Nicolello said.

Joseph Cairo, the Nassau Republican chairman, acknowledged Pilip's limited experience but defended her selection. "When you look at her record, you don't just look at two years — you look at her life experience," he said. 

Analysts say her brief tenure allows Suozzi to argue that voters should choose someone with more experience. Santos was not widely known before he was elected in November 2022 and then admitted fabricating much of his back story.

Voters have "already been burned, so to speak, with an unknown entity," said Lisa Parshall, a professor of political science at Daemen University in upstate Amherst.

On the other hand, Parshall said, Pilip's short record may be helpful to Republicans.

"There's not a lot there that they can find for the negatives and can tell a clear narrative of the positives," Parshall said.

Top issues, voting record

Pilip, who has said she worked as director of operations at her husband's Smithtown-based medical clinic before entering politics, was reelected to the legislature for a second term on Nov. 7.

Republicans had not run many competitive candidates in the 10th District or much of North Hempstead Town before she defeated Great Neck Democrat Ellen Birnbaum, a four-term incumbent, in 2021.

At her oath of office ceremony in January 2022, she noted nonpartisan issues that often take priority in county governing. "There is no Republican or Democrat way to fill a pothole or revitalize a downtown," she said. "It is about caring.”  

Tax relief, property reassessment and fighting antisemitism were her top priorities, she said. 

Nassau has kept the same property tax levy over the past two years and has not updated how properties are assessed — a decision that creates inequities in the property tax burden.  

Pilip has been a reliable vote for Republicans, who hold a 12-7 majority on the legislature.

In February, she voted in favor of new Republican-drawn legislative maps that took effect Nov. 7 as part of the once-per-decade redistricting process. The Nassau County Democratic Committee and the New York Civil Liberties Union have filed lawsuits, alleging the new districts favor Republican candidates, limit competition and dilute the voting power of communities of color. 

In May, Pilip voted in favor of a 99-year lease that GOP County Executive Bruce Blakeman's administration reached with Las Vegas Sands to allow a proposed $4 billion casino resort at Nassau Coliseum. 

In early December, Pilip joined Republicans in approving Blakeman's request to set aside $10 million in federal coronavirus relief aid to pay for events celebrating the county's 125th anniversary. Democrats opposed it, arguing the funds should go to social and mental health services. 

Quiet on the dais

Pilip has charted a course similar to other junior lawmakers in a chamber governed by seniority in both parties. She often waits for senior members to speak first, according to a review of thousands of pages of legislative transcripts. 

“On the dais, she doesn’t come across as overly partisan," said Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park). "When she speaks, she's deliberate and makes her point very well."

Legis. Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove), the incoming minority leader, said: "She's a brand-new legislator. She's really completing her first term and, typical of some first-term legislators, she seems to be very quiet and she has not asked many questions." 

A review of two years’ worth of transcripts shows Pilip speaks much less frequently than her colleagues. At many meetings, the only words she said into her microphone were “here" during roll call attendance and “aye” during vote tallies.

That made some statements stand out all the more.

Pilip expressed dismay at the tone of a 2022 legislative hearing on Blakeman's appointment of financier Matthew Bruderman as head of the board overseeing Nassau University Medical Center. 

Bruderman had been captured on tape at a hospital board meeting threatening to “mow down” political foes and distinguishing between “good racism” and “bad racism." 

At the end of the meeting, Pilip called the exchanges between him and Democratic lawmakers “out of control.”

“Maybe I’m new, but it was very hard to watch,” she said. She said she would support Bruderman's appointment but warned him “to be more careful when he chooses to say something, because we have to be sensitive about our words.”

Pilip has called for recruiting more police academy cadets of color and has suggested the department offer test-prep for prospective candidates.

In April 2022, Pilip told Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder that leaders needed to be more “creative" in their recruitment efforts. “Clearly something is not working well with this. We can do better,” she said. “For me, it doesn't make sense. I think it's time [to] question ourselves.”

But at a later hearing, Pilip grew frustrated with speakers who said Nassau's police reform efforts were moving too slowly.

“What I would like to hear … is more positive feedback coming from the community,” she said. “Because just to complain ‘everything is bad’ is so wrong. Those people are out there protecting our community, putting their life out there. What about saying ‘thank you?’ ”

WHAT THE JOBS PAY

  • Nassau legislator: $84,370 annually
  • U.S. representative: $174,000 annually
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