With two days to go before early voting in the closely watched fight for former Rep. George Santos’ open House seat on Long Island, the two nominees veered into a venomous exchange over gun safety regulations on Thursday.
The special election race for Santos’ seat has ping-ponged from national issue to national issue ahead of the Feb. 13 contest, which has drawn unique attention from coast to coast. If Suozzi, an experienced political operator, can overcome Pilip, a political newcomer, it would reduce the Republican Party’s slim House majority to two seats.
On Thursday, Suozzi sought to put the focus of the campaign on gun safety, an issue that has come up repeatedly in candidate interviews. He cast Pilip’s stated support for a machine gun ban as an attempt to hoodwink Long Island and Queens voters into thinking she supports a revival of the federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004.
“She’s trying to trick everybody!” Suozzi declared at a news conference in Glen Cove.
In a statement responding to the news conference, Pilip’s campaign accused Suozzi of lying about her positions and “becoming increasingly irrational.”
“Mazi is a firm believer in the right to bear arms,” said the statement. “She believes law-abiding citizens should have a route to have access to guns, but not automatic assault weapons.”
The sale of machine guns, or fully automatic guns, has been banned in the U.S. since the 1980s and is not a typical issue of dispute. Much of the debate around gun safety in recent years has instead revolved around semiautomatic assault-style rifles, which have been used in many of the nation’s bloodiest mass shootings.
It is not clear what Pilip’s position is on an assault weapons ban. Her platform does not make reference to it, and her campaign spokesman, Brian Devine, did not immediately reply when asked for her stance on Thursday.
“How is it possible that you can be so disrespectful of voters that you’re not being transparent?” Suozzi asked rhetorically at his news conference, noting that Pilip expressed support for an automatic weapons ban when asked by Newsday about her position on an assault weapons ban.
Suozzi, a centrist 61-year-old Democrat, represented the congressional district, New York’s 3rd, for three terms but gave up the seat to run for governor in 2022.
He supports strong gun control regulations, and claimed Pilip’s positions on firearms are functionally the same as those of the truth-challenged Santos, who co-sponsored a bill to make the AR-15-style assault rifle the national gun during his brief, doomed tenure in Congress.
Pilip, a 44-year-old Nassau County legislator and a registered Democrat, has prevaricated on multiple issues in the campaign. She refused to tell Newsday how she voted in the 2020 presidential election and did not respond directly when asked for her position on Roe v. Wade, the newspaper reported.
Suozzi has had his own moments of evasion. At a recent campaign stop, he seemed to dodge a question about whether he supports sanctuary city policies — which limit cities’ cooperation with federal immigration authorities — by saying he did not know what the phrase meant, National Review reported.
Reached by phone Thursday evening, Suozzi said he believes that the phrase “sanctuary city” has become a “meaningless” and “hyper-politicized” term, and that he is focused on keeping residents safe. He suggested that federal immigration authorities have not always followed local laws, but that local officials should cooperate with federal authorities when they adhere to the rules.
Early voting is scheduled to run from Saturday until Feb. 11.