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There’s little debate between Suozzi and Pilip

February 10, 2024

Publication: New York Daily News

By: Harry Siegel

When Tom Suozzi and Mazi Pilip finally shared a debate stage on Thursday the contrast couldn’t have been more obvious, or urgent.

If you’re a voter in Eastern Queens or Nassau County still considering your vote, or whether to cast one, take the advice of my colleagues on the Daily News Editorial Board and show up on Election Day this Tuesday to back Suozzi.

Fraudulent fabulist George Santos is looming over this special election, where the parties rather than voters picked the candidates to fill the seat he won and then was expelled from after Suozzi left it to try to primary Gov. Hochul.

(I spent a few months working for Suozzi, who I didn’t know before then and have rarely been in contact with since, in his previous primary for governor back in 2006, when he was steamrolled by then New York Attorney General and party pick Eliot Spitzer. A few years later, Suozzi lost his county executive position to a Republican in a wave year for the GOP.)

If there was any doubt why Pilip, a registered Democrat running on the Republican line, has hidden behind TV ads attacking her opponent while ducking interviews and unscripted settings, the town-hall style debate she joined only after early voting had already started dispelled it.

Pilip has stayed out of sight because she isn’t up to the job. She can’t answer simple and specific questions about how she would represent the district, or what she would do as a member of Congress.

Each time Pilip reached the end of her limited, almost entirely negative script about how “Joe Biden Suozzi” policies are supposedly ruining America, she struggled to say how she would help repair that damage.

On abortion, Pilip said that she personally opposes it as a mother of seven but wouldn’t force her view on other women.

Does that mean she’s pro-choice? That there are federal laws limiting abortion she would not support?

She couldn’t answer those straightforward and predictable questions, and grew visibly — perhaps theatrically — angry at being asked, walking across the stage into Suozzi’s space in a gender-flipped throwback to an overmatched Rick Lazio’s disastrous incursion to Hillary Clinton’s podium in their Senate debate back in 2000.

On guns, Pilip declared her support for an automatic-weapons ban only to be flummoxed to find out that’s been federal law since 1934 and the issue is semi-automatic weapons.

The debate crystallized the choice voters will make here: To be represented by an experienced politician with control of the issues and his words who’s eager to forge consensus across party lines, or by a neophyte running on an idea — that Democrats will destroy everything, so vote for anyone else — and an identity.

Pilip, trying to use her awkwardness against Suozzi, dismissed him as a “good talker” while calling herself a doer.

But she couldn’t say what she’d do, or how.

Talking isn’t sufficient, but it is a necessary prerequisite, along with local knowledge, to being a representative of the people in a functioning democracy.

The question is if we still have one of those, or a totalized system of government with no separation of powers to speak of.

The debate came just after Senate Republicans who’d refused to support more aid for Ukraine’s defense unless that money was tied to a border deal got their border deal before voting down their own plan after Donald Trump popped up on social media to scream “DON’T BE STUPID!!!” and call the bill a “DEATH WISH.”

After that, the Republican speaker in name only, who has no control over his own members, declared the deal his party had demanded DOA in the House.

That’s the party Pilip wants to be a foot soldier in.

Suozzi, running away from what he’s called Democrats’ “damaged brand” and toward the district’s voters, is offering himself as someone willing to make difficult deals and accept painful compromises, in part because that’s the only way he can compete here.

That can be infuriating, but it’s literally how a democracy works and what representatives in a functioning one are supposed to do.

In choosing between Suozzi and Pilip, voters are also choosing between a system with an independent legislature and lawmakers and one where they are merely avatars for their party and its leader.

Going down that second road is how the district, and America, got saddled with Santos.

“Everybody is sick of George Santos,” Suozzi said in closing at the debate.

“But how can you run for Congress in this post-George Santos world and not be completely transparent?”

Siegel is an editor at The City, a host of the FAQ NYC podcast and a columnist for the Daily News.

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