Tom Suozzi and Mazi Pilip have nontraditional campaign strategies. NewsdayTV's Macy Egeland and Newsday reporter Paul LaRocco report. Credit: Anthony Florio; File Footage

Democrat Tom Suozzi has been Glen Cove mayor, Nassau County executive and served three terms representing New York's 3rd Congressional District. But as he runs in the upcoming 3rd District special election, he resembles the newcomer, scheduling regular news conferences and snapping up invitations for debates and forums.

Republican-backed Mazi Melesa Pilip, of Great Neck, is a second-term Nassau legislator who until recently was little known outside her district. But she is running something of an incumbent's “Rose Garden” campaign, avoiding both the open availabilities with reporters and the public events with Suozzi, as she relies on the muscle of the Nassau GOP's voter turnout operation.

The role reversal spotlights the dramatically different strategies of each campaign in the intensely watched, well-funded sprint to replace expelled GOP Rep. George Santos. An Emerson College/PIX11 poll released last week showed Suozzi and Pilip in a dead heat, with 45% of the roughly 1,000 registered voters surveyed saying they planned to vote for Suozzi, and 42% for Pilip.

Early voting begins Feb. 3, and Election Day is Feb. 13. 

Nassau Republicans are expressing confidence, particularly after notching wins in almost every major race in the county since 2021. They say they hope voter distaste for state and national Democratic policies on inflation, crime and border security will overshadow questions about Pilip’s visibility and brief legislative record.

Democrats, who lack an energized base of progressive voters in a district that, before Santos, had elected a series of moderates, are highlighting Suozzi's positions on issues the GOP often emphasizes, such as veterans affairs and support for Israel.

They hope to make inroads in redder parts of the 3rd District where Pilip, 44, a registered Democrat and Ethiopian Israeli immigrant who served in the Israel Defense Forces, may not be as well known as Suozzi, who won his first elected post more than 30 years ago. Suozzi, 61, served as Nassau County executive from 2002 to 2009 and positioned himself as a moderate during his three terms in the House, from 2017 to 2022, although Republicans are now trying to paint him as an “extreme” liberal.

The campaign strategies of both Suozzi and Pilip carry risks, political experts say.

“I think those opportunities for a candidate like [Pilip] create both perils and promise,” Jacob Neiheisel, associate professor of political science at SUNY Buffalo, said of her avoiding debates and candidate forums.

Participating in more of those events with Suozzi “could certainly help her name recognition,” Neiheisel told Newsday. In avoiding them, Pilip is confining herself to “controlled environments where you're going to try to stick to your strengths.”

For Suozzi, “it’s certainly not costless either. Any time you have a town hall meeting and you're in these open types of forums, you can get people in there who can shut down the conversation, or otherwise make a scene or get you on the record in a way you don't want to be,” Neiheisel said.

The benefit is exposure and being able to “craft an image as a candidate who's open and willing to debate,” Neiheisel said.

Suozzi so far has attended several candidate forums without Pilip in communities such as New Hyde Park, Plainview and Whitestone, Queens. He's accepted invitations to debate on New York City television networks, while Pilip has declined. He's held news conferences on subjects such as immigration reform and the environment. Last week, gun control advocates joined him on Zoom to endorse his candidacy.

“I’ve got 90% name recognition. She’s got much lower name recognition,” Suozzi told a crowd of about 70 people at a Lakeville Civic Association candidates forum on Jan. 11, which Pilip had declined. “Normally, I’d be the one saying, ‘No debates.’ ”

Suozzi suggested Republicans appear to be counting on “the Republican machine [going] back to like it was in the old days” before he was county executive, when the GOP could get “400 workers from the Town of Oyster Bay, the Town of North Hempstead, Town of Hempstead, the county, to go out and hand out literature.”

At a party on Jan. 4 for Republicans at the Lannin restaurant in Eisenhower Park, Nassau GOP Chairman Joseph Cairo shared his own view of how Democrats would campaign: “I know what their game plan is. They're gonna go to Levittown. They're gonna go to Massapequa. They're gonna go to all those places, especially in the Italian communities, and think because [Suozzi's] name ends in a vowel, he's going to take those communities. He ain't going to do that.”

After redistricting in 2022, the 3rd District picked up the South Shore Nassau communities of Levittown and Massapequa, both GOP strongholds. The district also includes Nassau's North Shore and parts of northern Queens.

While Pilip has avoided one-on-one events with Suozzi, she has spoken frequently at large-scale Republican events in the district. 

In December, she announced her bid in a speech in Massapequa after many party elected officials had given speeches pumping her up.

On Sunday, Pilip took questions from a group of about 40 people gathered at the Chabad of Oyster Bay in Woodbury.

Asked by an audience member to define her stance on abortion rights, Pilip said she would never support a national abortion ban “or force my own beliefs on any woman.”

Another attendee asked whether Pilip agreed with some Republicans who have referred to members of a pro-Donald Trump crowd who rioted at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 as “patriots.” Pilip asked the man to repeat his question, but Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman cut in.

“I don't think anybody in the New York Republican hierarchy has endorsed any kind of lawlessness on any level,” Blakeman said.

Afterward, Pilip told Newsday: “I don't encourage violence, there is no place for violence, you have to respect the law."

To date, Pilip has committed to one public debate with Suozzi — on News 12 Long Island on Feb. 8, after the start of early voting and five days before Election Day.

Cairo dismissed assertions by the Suozzi campaign that Pilip is “in hiding.”

“She’s not keeping a low public profile,” Cairo told Newsday. “She’s all over, she’s making public appearances. She’s out there pounding the pavement.”

Already, GOP lawn signs are everywhere on major roadways from Sunrise Highway in Massapequa to Jericho Turnpike in Woodbury.

Suozzi's signs dot major roadways as well, with his motto in large print: “Let's Fix This!” 

Democrats still outpace the GOP on the TV airwaves. Democratic political action committees got onto TV with ads nearly two weeks before Republicans did.

As of Jan. 18, Democratic PACs were responsible for much of the $5.3 million in spending by outside groups, according to federal campaign filings.

“We have neighbors knocking on local doors, and that’s going to be more effective than millions of dollars on broadcast TV,” Cairo said.

Alexander Coppock, an associate professor of political science at Yale University, said it's often difficult to judge the effectiveness of old-school pavement pounding compared with heavy television advertising.

“Some candidates just keep their head down and focus on getting their message out, and then other people are chasing headlines and retweets,” he said. “Both strategies end up with elected candidates.”

But given the compressed time period of the special election campaign, he said, “there is a glimmer of evidence to suggest that ads are more effective earlier in campaigns than later.”

Interviews with voters over the past several weeks show district voters are paying attention to the special election.

Peter Delaurentis, 89, of Massapequa, said last Monday he was impressed by Pilip's candidacy. Seated at the bar at the American Legion Post 1066 with other veterans, Delaurentis said: “I like her politics.” He added: “I've seen her,” and “I know who she is.”

Outside the Massapequa Diner on Sunrise Highway, a handful of voters said they were supporting Suozzi and knew little about Pilip or her record.

Mark and Ronnie Semelman, of Seaford, both Democrats, said they were furious with Santos, who was expelled from the House on Dec. 1.

Suozzi, they said, was a familiar face.

“He has a history,” Mark Semelman said.

Santos has pleaded not guilty to federal charges that he filed fraudulent fundraising reports to obtain financial support for his congressional campaign and stole thousands of dollars from his campaign contributors.

Cairo all along has expressed confidence in his ground game and has told his supporters to ignore heavy spending by Democrats and outside groups in the race.

At the Eisenhower Park event early this month, Cairo joked about the Democrats' ground game. If they bring in paid outside workers to knock on doors, he said, “they'll get tired after a few hours, they'll go get a slice of pizza. That'll be the end of it. We have all of you: knocking on neighbors' doors, talking to people that you went to school with, people you go to church or temple with, people who you coach their kids in soccer, they coach your kids.”

Suozzi told the civic association crowd in New Hyde Park that, if they want to help him win, they'll need to do much the same.

“If you say, 'I like Tom Suozzi,' then I need you to tell your friends and tell your neighbors, tell your relatives and tell the people and spread the word,” Suozzi said. 

“If you hear me tonight and say, 'I don't like Tom Suozzi,' 'Never liked Tom Suozzi,' 'He's no good,' 'He's full of it,' just keep it to yourself.”

With Laura Figueroa Hernandez

Democrat Tom Suozzi has been Glen Cove mayor, Nassau County executive and served three terms representing New York's 3rd Congressional District. But as he runs in the upcoming 3rd District special election, he resembles the newcomer, scheduling regular news conferences and snapping up invitations for debates and forums.

Republican-backed Mazi Melesa Pilip, of Great Neck, is a second-term Nassau legislator who until recently was little known outside her district. But she is running something of an incumbent's “Rose Garden” campaign, avoiding both the open availabilities with reporters and the public events with Suozzi, as she relies on the muscle of the Nassau GOP's voter turnout operation.

The role reversal spotlights the dramatically different strategies of each campaign in the intensely watched, well-funded sprint to replace expelled GOP Rep. George Santos. An Emerson College/PIX11 poll released last week showed Suozzi and Pilip in a dead heat, with 45% of the roughly 1,000 registered voters surveyed saying they planned to vote for Suozzi, and 42% for Pilip.

Early voting begins Feb. 3, and Election Day is Feb. 13. 

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Democrat Tom Suozzi, the former Nassau County executive and 3rd Congressional District representative, is acting like the newcomer as he runs in the 3rd District special election, snapping up forum and debate invitations.
  • Republican candidate Mazi Melesa Pilip, a second-term Nassau County legislator, is running something of an incumbent's “Rose Garden” campaign, avoiding sharing events with Suozzi.
  • The role reversal highlights the divergent campaign strategies in the intensely watched special election to replace expelled GOP Rep. George Santos. 

Nassau Republicans are expressing confidence, particularly after notching wins in almost every major race in the county since 2021. They say they hope voter distaste for state and national Democratic policies on inflation, crime and border security will overshadow questions about Pilip’s visibility and brief legislative record.

Democrats, who lack an energized base of progressive voters in a district that, before Santos, had elected a series of moderates, are highlighting Suozzi's positions on issues the GOP often emphasizes, such as veterans affairs and support for Israel.

They hope to make inroads in redder parts of the 3rd District where Pilip, 44, a registered Democrat and Ethiopian Israeli immigrant who served in the Israel Defense Forces, may not be as well known as Suozzi, who won his first elected post more than 30 years ago. Suozzi, 61, served as Nassau County executive from 2002 to 2009 and positioned himself as a moderate during his three terms in the House, from 2017 to 2022, although Republicans are now trying to paint him as an “extreme” liberal.

The campaign strategies of both Suozzi and Pilip carry risks, political experts say.

“I think those opportunities for a candidate like [Pilip] create both perils and promise,” Jacob Neiheisel, associate professor of political science at SUNY Buffalo, said of her avoiding debates and candidate forums.

Participating in more of those events with Suozzi “could certainly help her name recognition,” Neiheisel told Newsday. In avoiding them, Pilip is confining herself to “controlled environments where you're going to try to stick to your strengths.”

For Suozzi, “it’s certainly not costless either. Any time you have a town hall meeting and you're in these open types of forums, you can get people in there who can shut down the conversation, or otherwise make a scene or get you on the record in a way you don't want to be,” Neiheisel said.

The benefit is exposure and being able to “craft an image as a candidate who's open and willing to debate,” Neiheisel said.

Plying different tactics

Suozzi so far has attended several candidate forums without Pilip in communities such as New Hyde Park, Plainview and Whitestone, Queens. He's accepted invitations to debate on New York City television networks, while Pilip has declined. He's held news conferences on subjects such as immigration reform and the environment. Last week, gun control advocates joined him on Zoom to endorse his candidacy.

“I’ve got 90% name recognition. She’s got much lower name recognition,” Suozzi told a crowd of about 70 people at a Lakeville Civic Association candidates forum on Jan. 11, which Pilip had declined. “Normally, I’d be the one saying, ‘No debates.’ ”

Suozzi suggested Republicans appear to be counting on “the Republican machine [going] back to like it was in the old days” before he was county executive, when the GOP could get “400 workers from the Town of Oyster Bay, the Town of North Hempstead, Town of Hempstead, the county, to go out and hand out literature.”

At a party on Jan. 4 for Republicans at the Lannin restaurant in Eisenhower Park, Nassau GOP Chairman Joseph Cairo shared his own view of how Democrats would campaign: “I know what their game plan is. They're gonna go to Levittown. They're gonna go to Massapequa. They're gonna go to all those places, especially in the Italian communities, and think because [Suozzi's] name ends in a vowel, he's going to take those communities. He ain't going to do that.”

After redistricting in 2022, the 3rd District picked up the South Shore Nassau communities of Levittown and Massapequa, both GOP strongholds. The district also includes Nassau's North Shore and parts of northern Queens.

While Pilip has avoided one-on-one events with Suozzi, she has spoken frequently at large-scale Republican events in the district. 

In December, she announced her bid in a speech in Massapequa after many party elected officials had given speeches pumping her up.

On Sunday, Pilip took questions from a group of about 40 people gathered at the Chabad of Oyster Bay in Woodbury.

Asked by an audience member to define her stance on abortion rights, Pilip said she would never support a national abortion ban “or force my own beliefs on any woman.”

Another attendee asked whether Pilip agreed with some Republicans who have referred to members of a pro-Donald Trump crowd who rioted at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 as “patriots.” Pilip asked the man to repeat his question, but Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman cut in.

“I don't think anybody in the New York Republican hierarchy has endorsed any kind of lawlessness on any level,” Blakeman said.

Afterward, Pilip told Newsday: “I don't encourage violence, there is no place for violence, you have to respect the law."

To date, Pilip has committed to one public debate with Suozzi — on News 12 Long Island on Feb. 8, after the start of early voting and five days before Election Day.

Cairo dismissed assertions by the Suozzi campaign that Pilip is “in hiding.”

“She’s not keeping a low public profile,” Cairo told Newsday. “She’s all over, she’s making public appearances. She’s out there pounding the pavement.”

Spreading the word to voters

Already, GOP lawn signs are everywhere on major roadways from Sunrise Highway in Massapequa to Jericho Turnpike in Woodbury.

Suozzi's signs dot major roadways as well, with his motto in large print: “Let's Fix This!” 

Democrats still outpace the GOP on the TV airwaves. Democratic political action committees got onto TV with ads nearly two weeks before Republicans did.

As of Jan. 18, Democratic PACs were responsible for much of the $5.3 million in spending by outside groups, according to federal campaign filings.

“We have neighbors knocking on local doors, and that’s going to be more effective than millions of dollars on broadcast TV,” Cairo said.

Alexander Coppock, an associate professor of political science at Yale University, said it's often difficult to judge the effectiveness of old-school pavement pounding compared with heavy television advertising.

“Some candidates just keep their head down and focus on getting their message out, and then other people are chasing headlines and retweets,” he said. “Both strategies end up with elected candidates.”

But given the compressed time period of the special election campaign, he said, “there is a glimmer of evidence to suggest that ads are more effective earlier in campaigns than later.”

Interviews with voters over the past several weeks show district voters are paying attention to the special election.

Peter Delaurentis, 89, of Massapequa, said last Monday he was impressed by Pilip's candidacy. Seated at the bar at the American Legion Post 1066 with other veterans, Delaurentis said: “I like her politics.” He added: “I've seen her,” and “I know who she is.”

Outside the Massapequa Diner on Sunrise Highway, a handful of voters said they were supporting Suozzi and knew little about Pilip or her record.

Mark and Ronnie Semelman, of Seaford, both Democrats, said they were furious with Santos, who was expelled from the House on Dec. 1.

Suozzi, they said, was a familiar face.

“He has a history,” Mark Semelman said.

Santos has pleaded not guilty to federal charges that he filed fraudulent fundraising reports to obtain financial support for his congressional campaign and stole thousands of dollars from his campaign contributors.

Cairo all along has expressed confidence in his ground game and has told his supporters to ignore heavy spending by Democrats and outside groups in the race.

At the Eisenhower Park event early this month, Cairo joked about the Democrats' ground game. If they bring in paid outside workers to knock on doors, he said, “they'll get tired after a few hours, they'll go get a slice of pizza. That'll be the end of it. We have all of you: knocking on neighbors' doors, talking to people that you went to school with, people you go to church or temple with, people who you coach their kids in soccer, they coach your kids.”

Suozzi told the civic association crowd in New Hyde Park that, if they want to help him win, they'll need to do much the same.

“If you say, 'I like Tom Suozzi,' then I need you to tell your friends and tell your neighbors, tell your relatives and tell the people and spread the word,” Suozzi said. 

“If you hear me tonight and say, 'I don't like Tom Suozzi,' 'Never liked Tom Suozzi,' 'He's no good,' 'He's full of it,' just keep it to yourself.”

With Laura Figueroa Hernandez

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