Nassau County Republicans rallying on Dec. 15 after naming Mazi...

Nassau County Republicans rallying on Dec. 15 after naming Mazi Melesa Pilip as their candidate in the special election in the 3rd Congressional District. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Mazi Melesa Pilip, the Republican nominee for the special election in New York's 3rd Congressional District, told Newsday on Tuesday she does not support a national abortion ban and opposes civilian use of assault weapons, and downplayed her voter registration as a Democrat.

Pilip, 44, an Ethiopian Israeli immigrant, recalled her experiences as a gunsmith with a paratrooper brigade in the Israeli Defense Forces in the late 1990s, and declined to commit to backing former President Donald Trump in next year's GOP presidential primary.

Pilip, a Jewish mother of seven, characterized herself as religious and “pro-life,” but said, “I’m not going to support the national abortion ban, and I’m not going to risk any woman.”

Asked if she agreed with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last year to overturn Roe v. Wade, Pilip said, “abortion is a personal decision.” She repeated she wouldn’t support a national ban similar to what Conservative Party leaders who are endorsing her candidacy back.

Pilip also did not directly answer whether she’d support a federal assault weapons ban, but said she was against civilians owning them.

“Law-abiding citizens should have a route to have access to guns, but not automatic assault weapons,” she told Newsday.

Pilip, a first-term Nassau County legislator from Great Neck, gave her most extensive comments to date about national issues that are expected to play a major role in the Feb. 13 contest to replace former GOP Rep. George Santos, who was expelled from Congress on Dec. 1. 

Pilip faces former Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), who represented the 3rd District for six years before Santos' election.

So far Pilip has focused her public remarks narrowly, condemning “defunding the police” and Hamas militants in their war with Israel.

When Pilip launched her campaign last week in Massapequa, she left the event after delivering prepared remarks, leaving officials such as Nassau GOP chairman Joseph Cairo to take questions.

Kim Devlin, a senior adviser for Suozzi's campaign, said in a statement Suozzi long has been clear about his positions, but Pilip “has gone from saying nothing about the issues [to] now saying she agrees with all sides” on abortion and guns.

Pilip has said she left Ethiopia at age 12 as part of the covert Israeli rescue effort to resettle persecuted Jews in Israel.

Pilip said Tuesday she served in the IDF beginning in 1997, for about a year and nine months in the paratroopers unit, Tzanchanim. She was stationed in Beit Lid. 

She said as a gunsmith, she managed locations where weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades were kept, ensuring they were “ready at any given time during war.” 

Pilip said she was not a parachutist, but noted all members of the unit identify as paratroopers.

Pilip later obtained undergraduate and graduate degrees in Israel before coming to the United States with her husband, a Ukrainian American cardiologist who had studied in Israel. 

Pilip registered to vote as a Democrat, but said she began to align more with Republicans, who solicited her to run for county legislature on their ticket in 2021. The party “didn’t really care” about her affiliation, Pilip said.

Asked if she'd register as a Republican, she said: “At any point I can do that.”

Voting records show Pilip did not start to vote consistently until the 2020 election.

Asked whether she voted that year for Trump or President Joe Biden, she bristled: “Why will I answer something like this?”

Asked directly if she voted for Trump, she replied: “It’s a personal question.” 

Pilip said she disagreed with Trump's assertion the 2020 election was stolen from him.

She said she'd endorse whoever wins the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.

“When the time comes, the American people will choose and whoever the Republican Party nominates, I'm going to support that person,” she said.

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