Nassau Legis. Mazi Melesa Pilip was formally announced as the GOP candidate in the Third District special election for George Santos' former congressional seat. NewsdayTV's Shari Einhorn reports. Credit: Newsday/Drew Singh

Nassau Republicans on Friday launched Mazi Melesa Pilip into the national spotlight as their pick to run in a Feb. 13 special election to replace ousted Rep. George Santos — but she did not take questions from reporters.

Pilip, 44, a Nassau County legislator from Great Neck, faces Tom Suozzi, a former Nassau County executive and congressman, in the special election to represent New York's 3rd Congressional District. 

Both are registered Democrats. Pilip will run on the Republican and Conservative party lines.

In a speech to several hundred people at American Legion Post 1066 in Massapequa, Pilip vowed to support Israel in its war with Hamas, fund law enforcement agencies and oppose extremism and terrorism around the world. 

“I am the example of the American dream. I have overcome many challenges in my life, and that's why I want to be the voice for our families, those who are left behind, our senior citizens, our young people,” she said. “I stand strong with our communities in support of Israel, Ukraine and all nations that are subject to terrorism. I will stand up to the extremes who want to destroy our way of life, defunding the police and weakening our criminal laws and eliminating the State of Israel.”

After the speech, Pilip left the auditorium to singer Tina Turner's rendition of “The Best.” 

Mike Deery, a spokesman for the Nassau GOP, said Pilip had other stops and appointments and could not answer questions from the news media.

Instead, Nassau Republican Chairman Joseph Cairo took questions from reporters. Asked about Pilip's positions on abortion rights, Cairo deflected. “You'd have to speak to her,” he told Newsday.

Asked whether she'd change her registration to Republican, Cairo noted that former President Ronald Reagan once was a Democrat.

“It's irrelevant. Who cares?” Cairo said. “She's the best person for the job.”

A number of high-profile former and sitting Republican lawmakers attended the launch, including former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R-Island Park) and former Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford). Also in attendance were elected county officials and municipal government employees.

Pilip reflected on her distinctive backstory. She said she grew up in a small Ethiopian village, and when she was 12, she and her family left the country as part of a covert Israeli military mission to rescue persecuted Jews so they could resettle in Israel. She has said she served in the Israeli Defense Forces as a paratrooper. 

Although she did not mention Suozzi by name, Pilip took several swipes at him. She attempted to portray him as allied with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and as a supporter of property tax hikes when he was Nassau County executive from 2002 through 2009.

“I'm the only candidate in this race who can say that I have not supported tax hikes,” Pilip said. “I am the only person in this race who has never asked to be a member of the 'Squad.'”

Pilip was referring to a remark Suozzi made on MSNBC in 2019 about four female progressive House members of color, nicknamed the Squad, who had come under attack from then-President Donald Trump. Trump had tweeted: “Why don't they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

On MSNBC, Suozzi said he didn't agree with everything those members did, “but today I want to be an honorary member.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez replied on Twitter: “You're in,” with emoji of a purple heart and another of flexed biceps.

The remark was widely believed to be tongue-in-cheek, and Suozzi has positioned himself as a moderate Democrat.

Democrats have tried to cast Pilip as a “MAGA” extremist who won't answer questions about her positions on abortion and gun rights, and who has not voted in local and national elections consistently.

Kim Devlin, a senior adviser to Suozzi, in a statement called it “inconceivable that Tom's opponent wants to run for Congress but is unwilling or unable to answer the most basic questions about the very important issues that affect people’s lives.”

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