New York Democrats nominated former Rep. Tom Suozzi on Thursday as their candidate to fill the vacancy created by former Republican Rep. George Santos’ expulsion.
“The folks from Massapequa and Levittown to the north shore of Nassau, to northeast Queens deserve better,” Suozzi wrote in a statement accepting the nomination. “I will work day and night with both parties to deliver for the people, to make living here more affordable, safer and better.”
“I delivered for this district before, and I will do it again by putting you ahead of partisanship,” he added. “Let’s reject the nonsense and get back to work. Let’s fix this!”
Suozzi will face the Republican nominee in New York’s 3rd Congressional District, which encompasses Queens and Long Island, in a special election on Feb. 13.
Empire State Republicans are expected to choose between Michael Sapraicone, a former New York Police Department detective who’s now a private security magnate, and Nassau County legislator Mazi Pilip, an Ethiopia-born veteran of the Israel Defense Forces. Santos endorsed Sapraicone on Sunday, writing on X that Sapraicone, who has already contributed $300,000 to his own campaign, has “the fundraising and infrastructure to go head to head with Suozzi and show the whole country NY-3 is a GOP stronghold.”
Officially, the chairs of the Queens and Nassau county Democratic parties selected Suozzi, a staunch centrist, over former state Sen. Anna Kaplan and other, less viable contenders.
But the decision was the result of heavy input from state and national Democratic leaders, many of whom, including House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), hail from New York. And Suozzi, who is close to Jeffries, had a virtual lock on the nomination from the start.
The attributes that make Suozzi electable in the eyes of Democrats eager to flip New York’s 3rd District are plain to any political observer. Suozzi held a seat with roughly the same boundaries for three terms before leaving to challenge New York Gov. Kathy Hochul from the right in the 2022 Democratic primary. His criticism of Democrats for being insufficiently tough on crime and his opposition to traffic congestion pricing and other liberal policies seen as unpopular on Long Island, could also limit the effectiveness of standard Republican attacks.
The final step for Suozzi was getting approval from Hochul, who summoned him to her office in Albany on Monday, according to a Tuesday report in The New York Times.
She sought assurances from Suozzi that he would not attack the Democratic Party in the course of his campaign and that he would run as an unabashed defender of abortion rights. The demands were meant to address two criticisms of Suozzi: that his negative campaigning against Hochul in the 2022 primary hurt the party in the general election and that his past moderation on abortion rights would hurt him in this campaign.
Suozzi agreed to Hochul’s requests, including by promising to stand by his support for repealing the Hyde Amendment, which bars public funding for abortions. (Suozzi started supporting repeal only in 2019 amid a pressure campaign from constituents.) He also apologized to Hochul for personal attacks against her during the 2022 primary.
The stakes of the February election are high for both parties. Republicans are eager to hold on to gains they made in New York in 2022, when the party flipped four House seats in districts that President Joe Biden had won in 2020. The GOP’s narrow majority is the result of a net pickup of five seats, which means that the results in New York were more pivotal than the outcomes in any other state.
Democrats, still reeling from the humiliation of those defeats in such a reliably blue state, are determined to avoid a repeat of their 2022 performance. The party sees New York as a key part of its strategy to retake the House ― and the special election as an opportunity to get a head start on that task. As an incumbent, the winner of the contest would be the favorite to hold the seat in the November general election.
Both parties likewise hope to make the special election outcome a harbinger of the coming presidential race. A Democratic takeover of the seat, in particular, could lend credence to the party’s claims that Biden is in better shape than his sluggish poll numbers would suggest.
New York’s 3rd District is a classic battleground seat that is set to attract big spending from both parties and their allied super PACs.
Although the boundaries after redistricting make it slightly less favorable for Democrats, voters in the district favored Biden over Donald Trump in 2020 by a margin of 8 percentage points.
At the same time, Republicans continued to perform well on Long Island in county and local elections last month. Democrats hope that nationalizing the race, with an emphasis on flipping the House and standing up to the GOP’s support for restrictions on abortion rights, will work to their advantage.
Tony Nunziato, chair of the Queens County Republican Party, told HuffPost that the eventual Republican nominee would “definitely” need to have “flexibility” on the question of abortion rights to accommodate the district’s relatively liberal social views.
He said that crime, immigration and antisemitism are more pressing issues at the moment.
“Not to diminish abortion, but there’s so many other things right now that are more in the front line,” he said.