Nassau and Queens Republicans have picked their candidate to run in a special election to replace the ousted George Santos. NewsdayTV's Ken Buffa reports. Credit: Newsday Studio

Nassau and Queens Republicans on Thursday nominated first-term Nassau County Legis. Mazi Melesa Pilip as their candidate to run in the Feb. 13 special election to replace ousted GOP Rep. George Santos.

Pilip, 44, of Great Neck, will face former Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) to fill the remainder of Santos’ term representing the 3rd Congressional District in Nassau and Queens.

Nassau Republican Chairman Joseph Cairo and Queens Chairman Tony Nunziato met Thursday at Nassau GOP headquarters in Westbury to nominate Pilip as the party's pick. Pilip also will run on the Conservative Party line, Cairo said.

“Mazi clearly presents herself as an outstanding person and a candidate,” Cairo said. “We're ready to begin and send Mazi to Washington.”

Pilip, a registered Democrat and Ethiopian-Israeli immigrant, told Newsday she was grateful to be the Republican Party's “new face, and I'm very excited to be the voice for the people.”

She continued: “I'm confident that I'm going to have the support from residents, and we're going to have a great victory on Feb. 13.”

'Very thorough' vetting process

Cairo said the committee hired three private companies, which he declined to name, to run background checks on prospective candidates. The firms gave their reports to the party on Wednesday.

“The vetting process was very thorough,” Cairo said.

The party is expected to introduce Pilip as the nominee at a news conference Friday at American Legion Post 1066 in Massapequa.

The selection of a congressional candidate from Great Neck reflects the Nassau GOP's gains in recent elections in the Town of North Hempstead, which had been a Democratic stronghold for decades.

Pilip was elected on the Republican line in 2021 — her first bid for public office — to represent the Nassau County Legislature’s 10th District, defeating a four-term incumbent Democrat. Pilip was reelected last month.

“When I started this journey three years ago, I wanted to be the voice for everyone. For me, it's not about Republicans and Democrats, it's about giving good government for the people,” Pilip said.

Democrats attack voting record

Nassau County Board of Elections records show Pilip first registered as a Democrat in 2012 and has not always voted consistently. She voted in the November elections in 2016, 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023, election records show.

Jay Jacobs, the Nassau and state Democratic chairman, seized on Pilip's voting record, her initial support of Santos, later rescinded, and her backing by the Conservative Party, which opposes abortion in nearly all circumstances.

Santos was expelled from Congress on Dec. 1 after the release of a scathing House Ethics report accusing him of defrauding campaign donors for personal profit. Cairo has admitted the party failed to vet Santos properly before he won the Third District seat last November.

"The last thing the working folks of LI and Eastern Queens want is an unknown candidate who called George Santos a good friend, has voted in less than half the elections she was eligible to vote in, and is aligned with MAGA Republicans and the Conservative Party in their anti-choice, anti-gun safety extremism," Jacobs said in a statement.

Cairo responded that Pilip repudiated Santos immediately upon learning of his deceptions. In a reference to Suozzi's backing of tax increases as Glen Cove mayor and Nassau County executive, Cairo said, "they should be more concerned about High Tax Tom's support for hundreds of millions in tax hikes."

Republicans interviewed more than 20 candidates for the special election.

Former Rep. Pete King (R-Seaford), a vice chairman of the Nassau Republican Committee, called Pilip “a great candidate. She's really the American success story, the American dream.”

Pilip was 12 when she and her family left Ethiopia in 1991 as part of a covert Israeli military mission to rescue persecuted Ethiopian Jews and resettle them in Israel, she has said. She attended boarding school and college in Israel, she has said, and served in the Israeli Defense Forces before coming to the United States in her 20s.

After the Santos scandal, GOP officials said they were confident in the veracity of her backstory. Mike Deery, a spokesman for the Nassau GOP, said the checks "included all facets of Mazi's background both locally and internationally."

Pilip has seen her profile rise with her strong advocacy for Israel after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel and Israel’s subsequent strikes on Gaza.

“For the person who grew up in Israel and has family in Israel, the attack on Oct. 7 personally impacted me,” Pilip said Thursday. “And we have to send a message to the world. Hamas is a terrorist organization, and Israel has an obligation to defend its people.”

Pilip and her husband, Adalbert Pilip, an American physician who studied in Israel, are raising seven children. Mazi Pilip told Newsday in 2021 she was director of operations at her husband's practice, A.P. New York Comprehensive Medical Care.

In a lawsuit filed in State Supreme Court in Suffolk County, Adalbert Pilip and A.P. New York Comprehensive Medical Care are accused of breaching a multiyear lease for a facility in Bay Shore, failing to pay about $72,000 in rent due as of late 2020 and owing an additional $497,000 for the five remaining years of the lease through 2026, according to a 2021 amended complaint.

Lawyers for Dr. Pilip have denied the allegations in court.

Asked about the case, which is pending, Deery said in a statement: “This is an ongoing lease dispute between a private business owned by Ms. Pilip’s husband and a landlord.”

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