The political world is no stranger to shocks and characters, but few perhaps eclipse the shocking character of former Congressman George Santos (R-Queens). Shortly after winning the Nassau-northern Queens-based Third Congressional District in 2022 – by a wide eight-point-margin for the open seat – he was found to have fabricated not only nearly every aspect of his career, but also nearly every aspect of his existence.

            Including, but not limited to, lying about his college education, or lack thereof, his finances, his genealogy, his immediate family, and his criminal record in Brazil, Santos alienated himself from nearly the entire House Republican Caucus before his first term formally began. After facing mounting calls from House Republicans to resign, including Suffolk’s own Nick LaLota (R-Amityville), Santos remained adamant in his position in the House, maintained his innocence, and even filed paperwork to run for re-election in 2024.

            Santos survived two expulsion efforts. However, after the Select Subcommittee on Ethics, on which Suffolk’s own Andrew Garbarino (R-Bayport) served, produced a damning report on his conduct, mostly his campaign finance and associated ethical lapses, the House overwhelmingly voted to expel him, an event that has only happened five times prior, with three expulsions occurring during the Civil War.

            Santos became the first Republican House member to be expelled in addition to being the first to be expelled without a formal criminal conviction.

Congressman Tom Suozzi (Credit – U.S House of Representatives)

            Tuesday night’s special election pitted former Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), who represented the district from 2017 to 2023, against Nassau County Legislator Mazi Melesa Pilip (R-Great Neck), an Ethiopian-born Jewish woman who served in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) before moving to New York.

            As of the initial results, with 93% of precincts reporting, Suozzi defeated Pilip with 54% of the vote to her 46% – an eight-point margin that is nearly identical to the one with which Santos won in 2022. In terms of raw votes, Suozzi took about 91,000 to Pilip’s 78,000 – a margin of roughly 13,000 votes.

            Suozzi won both county portions in the district. The bulk of Nassau County is contained within the Third District and Suozzi won it 53%-47%, about a six-point margin. In the small sliver of Queens within the Third District, Suozzi won by a more comfortable 62%-38% margin, about twenty-four points.

            The Nassau part of the district includes Bethpage, Farmingdale, Glen Cove, Great Neck, Hicksville, Jericho, Levittown, Manhasset, Massapequa Park, Mineola, Old Brookville, Oyster Bay Cove, Plainview, Port Washington, Roslyn, and Syosset. The Queens portion of the district includes Floral Park, Glen Oaks, Little Neck, Queens Village, and Whitestone.

            “Despite all the attacks, despite all the lies about Tom Suozzi and ‘The Squad,’ about Tom Suozzi being the ‘godfather of the migrant crisis,’ about ‘Sanctuary Suozzi,’ despite the dirty tricks…we won,” said Suozzi to supporters at his rally in Woodbury. Suozzi began his speech after protestors holding Palestinian flags heckled him for supporting “genocide.”

            Suozzi referenced the attacks by Pilip and the Nassau GOP, likening him to members of “The Squad,” a hard-left progressive faction of the Democratic Party operating in the House.

            The election was heavily determined by the migrant crisis, gripping New York City and State in ways unlike any other parts of the country. The 2022 elections across New York were seen as a referendum on the Democratic machine, while the 2023 local elections were seen as a further rebuke of the party’s tarnished brand in a region that is ancestrally Republican.

            However, the attacks did not stick to Suozzi, arguably one of the party’s most prominent name-brand candidates. A self-proclaimed moderate, Suozzi also had the massive advantage of name recognition.

            Additionally, support for Israel became a close second to immigration, as this significantly Jewish district could have been swung by either candidate, with Pilip’s advantage lying in her heritage and IDF service, and Suozzi’s in his party’s typical courting of the Jewish voting bloc.

            Pilip called Suozzi to concede the race and congratulate him on his win.

            “We are fighters,” said Pilip to supporters at her rally in East Meadow. “Yes, we lost, but it doesn’t mean we are going to end here. We are not going to give up, we will bring common-sense government.”

            Pilip was joined by Congressmen LaLota and Garbarino, as well as Congressman Anthony D’Esposito (R-Island Park) of the neighboring Fourth District, and Nassau GOP Chairman Joe Cairo.

            Pilip currently serves as Nassau County Legislator from the Tenth District. She ousted four-term incumbent Ellen Birnbaum (D-Great Neck) in 2021.

            Suozzi’s win complicates Republicans’ already-complicated House picture. A nominal majority of 222 seats after the 2022 elections will dwindle to 221 once Suozzi is seated and once other vacancies are filled. Such a thin majority doesn’t account for vacancies, absences, and moderate brands of politics that might buck party leadership. The House failed to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas because of Majority Leader Steve Scalise’s (R, LA-01) absence for cancer treatment. Only when Scalise returned to the House floor on Tuesday did Republicans have enough votes to impeach Mayorkas.

            The House currently has three vacancies: CA-20, vacated by former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R); OH-06, vacated by Bill Johnson (R); and NY-26, vacated by Brian Higgins (D). With these factored in, Republicans have a working majority of 219 seats, with 218 required for a party to form a majority outright.

            The result last night is not something, in my view, that Democrats should celebrate too much,” said House Speaker Mike Johnson (R, LA-04). “There are a lot of factors there. That is in no way a bellwether of what’s going to happen this fall.”

            Johnson, while praising Pilip’s tenacity, said that she battled a large disparity in name recognition between herself and Suozzi, while also having what he called a “short runway” with an eight-week campaign.

            Johnson now has to maintain control of his caucus, while pleasing moderates, the party line, and the populist wings of the GOP.

            The fact that Santos just so happened to represent one of the most significant and competitive districts in the country made it a much larger headache for Republicans than if Santos hailed from a safely Republican one elsewhere. The GOP’s historic gains in New York in 2022, despite an underwhelming national environment, ran straight through the Third District, with blue-leaning working-class communities across Nassau, including the Town of North Hempstead, and a small portion of northern Queens.

            Former Congressman Peter King (R-Seaford) represented part of the area until he was redistricted to the Second District after the 2010 Census. Former Congressman Steve Israel (D-Huntington) then represented the new Third District, which stretches from Kings Park to Flushing until his retirement in 2017. The open seat was then won by Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove). Twice re-elected, he forewent a fourth term in 2022 to primary Governor Kathy Hochul (D). He came in a distant third in the primary behind New York City progressive Jumaane Williams (D).

            The two dynamics of the special election to replace Santos in this changing district in a changing state made the race fairly straightforward: the scandal penalty inflicted on the GOP and the semi-baked incumbency from a former representative who still has name recognition and is fresh in constituents’ memories.

            Suozzi’s name recognition precedes him: he served as Mayor of Glen Cove from 1994 to 2001, then as Nassau County Executive from 2002 to 2009. After a hiatus from politics, he was elected to the open Third District in 2016 where he served until 2023. A more moderate, labor-backed Democrat, Suozzi has had no trouble outrunning the top of his party’s ticket in an area that continues to drift rightward.

            Although there is no perfect science in trying to mathematically determine a point spread for elections, there is an imperfect science in understanding that scandals generally hurt the party who owns them. The scandal penalty, especially in the current era of hyperpartisanship, is more akin to the ghost of the predecessor hanging over the immediate future of the district or state, whether that’s desired or not.

            While Santos is almost caricature-like in just how chronically dishonest he was, many argued that the benefit of the doubt could have been afforded to virtually anyone else. However, the Third District is a diverse district with a foreign-born population accounting for nearly one quarter of the district, as of 2021. Additionally, the district is the wealthiest in the state and fourth-wealthiest nationally, and Democrats have a near-100,000 voter registration advantage over Republicans.

            All that considered, the scandal penalty goes much further. Voters who ordinarily would not have voted for a Republican took a chance on Santos just to have all their second thoughts proven right.

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Matt Meduri serves as the Editor in Chief of the Messenger Papers and writer of America the Beautiful and This Week Today columns. As a graduate of St. Joseph's University, Matt has been working in the political journalism field for over 5 years. He is a multi-instrumentalist, enjoys cooking and writing his own recipes, and traveling throughout the United States including Guam.