The two candidates, who will go head-to-head in a special election next week in an attempt to fill the vacant House seat previously held by former Rep. George Santos, traded barbs during a debate when asked about a number of topics – including immigration and abortion.
Democrat Tom Suozzi, a former lawmaker in the House who unsuccessfully ran for governor of the Empire State twice, and Republican Mazi Pilip, a former Israel Defense Forces soldier and relative political newcomer serving as a Republican county legislator, met face to face on Long Island in the first and only debate in the special election for New York’s 3rd Congressional District.
Hosted by News 12 Long Island, the pre-taped debate featured a number of topics that are top of mind as voters weigh who to vote for in the contentious election.
Asked by a voter in the district who attended the debate what steps they would take to address the migrant crisis in New York City and the impact it’s having on those who live in the district, Pilip replied, “Before we even address the issue inside, we have to make sure first and foremost we need to secure the border. After that, then we have to come up with a plan. We have to know who’s here. We don’t even know who all those people are.”
“So I can’t answer how we are gonna take of it before we can secure the border,” she added. “Once we secure the border, we have to review to see who those people are and what we should do with them.”
Responding to Pilip’s remarks on the topic, while not addressing the question specifically about how he would handle the immigration issue himself, Suozzi said, “Mrs. Pilip points out there’s a problem, there’s a problem, there’s a problem. She has no solutions. There’s a solution that’s been proposed in the United States Senate that would actually build more wall, would get more border agents, would deal with asylum seekers, would reform the laws to make it better, and would give money to the state of New York and the city of New York to deal with the migrant crisis that we currently have.”
“Right now, they wanna try and put more migrants over at Creedmoor,” he continued. “I’ve already registered my complaints with the city of New York, saying ‘don’t put anymore at that location.’ The reality is, I know how government works, I know how to get things done, I know who to talk to, how to stop things, and how to make things happen My opponent in this race is very good at pointing out the problems … except her opposition to this bipartisan deal will result in the border staying open for years and years and years, and more migrants coming to New York. She has no solutions whatsoever. … That’s not how you govern.”
The bipartisan “solution” referenced by Suozzi in the back and forth between the candidates appeared to be the supplemental spending agreement that included aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan as well as an ambitious border security and immigration package that failed to pass the Senate on Wednesday.
Snapping back at Suozzi’s comments, Pilip said, “It’s amazing you’re coming up with a solution. You created this issue. You were there. You were in charge of this problem, Tom. It’s amazing, you have to admit it.”
“You are saying you are about to go to fix it? I mean c’mon,” she added.
Declaring him unfit to handle the issue, Pilip, who has consistently accused the former congressman of siding with President Biden and voting in lock-step with the progressive “squad” Democrats, claimed Suozzi “opened the border.”
“Tom Suozzi opened the border. Tom Suozzi funded the sanctuary city. Tom Suozzi kicked I.C.E. from Nassau County,” she said. “This is absolutely you; you have to own it.”
Suozzi called Pilip’s accusation “absurd” and suggested that he supports Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“For you to suggest I’m a member of the squad is about as believable as you being a member of George Santos’s volleyball team,” Suozzi told Pilip.
Prior to his comments, Suozzi took heat from Pilip this week over a resurfaced social media post in which he shared a guide appearing to instruct migrants on how to deal with ICE agents in the event of raids promised by then-President Trump in 2019. Pilip told Fox News Digital that the post to Facebook at the time demonstrates that Suozzi “can’t run away from his record of supporting Joe Biden’s open borders, sanctuary cities, and lawlessness.”
On the topic of abortion, Pilip, who noted she was “pro-life” and the mother of seven children, said, “I’m not going to force my own beliefs to any woman, therefore I’m not going to support a national abortion ban.”
Pushing Pilip on the issue, Suozzi questioned Pilip about whether she would vote to codify Roe v. Wade and repeatedly asked her, “Are you pro-choice?”
Pilip did not respond directly to Suozzi’s questions on the issue and instead accused the New York Democrat of attempting to tell women what to think of their bodies and distorting her record on the issue.
“How dare you lie like this,” Pilip said in response.
Released Thursday, a Siena College poll conducted for Newsday from Feb. 3 to Feb. 6 showed Suozzi leading Pilip 48% to 44% among likely voters.
The special election is slated to take place on Feb. 13. Early voting began in the district on Feb. 3.