Who Is Mazi Melesa Pilip, Republicans’ George Santos Replacement?

Photo: Sipa USA / Alamy Stock Photo/Alamy Stock Photo

After days of deliberations, local Republican leaders have reportedly selected their candidate to run in a special election to succeed newly expelled George Santos.

The New York Times reports that Mazi Melesa Pilip, a Nassau County legislator, will be named as the Republican nominee for New York’s Third District. An official announcement of her candidacy is expected on Friday. Pilip will face off against Tom Suozzi, the Democratic former congressman who previously represented the Long Island and Queens–based district.

Pilip is relatively new to politics, having first been elected to the county legislature in 2021. But she joins the race with a compelling backstory. In 1991, when she was 12, Pilip immigrated from her village in Ethiopia to Israel as part of Operation Solomon, an Israeli military operation that airlifted thousands of Ethiopian Jews to the country. She would later serve as a gunsmith in the Israel Defense Forces, per Jewish Insider.

There’s one unusual thing in her political history. Though Pilip has been a consistent voice for Republican issues and causes in recent years, Politico reported that she has been officially enrolled as a member of the Democratic Party since 2012, per Board of Elections records. (She did run on the Republican ballot line in both her 2021 and 2023 races.)

She will be facing a formidable candidate in Suozzi. The former three-term congressman has a reputation as a prolific fundraiser and is well known in the district. Suozzi declined to seek reelection in 2021 to challenge Kathy Hochul as she sought her first full term as governor. He came in third, and his congressional seat was won by Santos, whom Suozzi previously bested during a prior 2020 bid.

“People are sick and tired of the circus in Congress. Tom Suozzi has a proven record that he will work every day to try and bring common sense back to Washington by working across party lines, like he’s always done,” Suozzi campaign adviser Kim Devlin said in a statement.

The buzzy February 13 election will mark the unofficial start of the 2024 political season, and it’s expected to hold significant implications for the rest of the year. New York is seen as a top target for both major parties following the loss of four Democrat-held seats in the state, which helped to swing control of the House of Representatives to Republicans. The district will still undergo previously slated primary and general elections later this year, but now with an additional change. After the Court of Appeals ruled that the state’s House map must be redrawn once more, the potential winner in February might have to run in a completely new and potentially gerrymandered district. Since Democrats will have the final word on drawing that map, Suozzi could face a relatively easy path to victory.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Pilip served as a paratrooper in the IDF. She was a gunsmith.

Who Is Mazi Melesa Pilip, Republicans’ Santos Replacement?