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Politics

New York Republicans pick Mazi Melesa Pilip to succeed George Santos

The race in the district straddling Nassau County and Queens is considered a toss-up, one crucial in determining which party controls the House in 2025.

Pilip, a newly reelected Nassau County legislator, has a background that allies say perfectly fits the political moment. She served in the Israeli Defense Forces as an Ethiopian-born Jew who fled to Israel as a child.

Those familiar with the choice by Nassau County GOP chair Joe Cairo were granted anonymity to speak freely.

But Pilip and other contenders have come under scrutiny.

She is an enrolled Democrat, despite having won local elections as a Republican, POLITICO discovered.

Additionally, a POLITICO review of court records showed her husband’s medical practice, where Pilip worked as operations director, was sued in 2020 for allegedly failing to pay about $70,000 in back rent and has $500,000 still due on its lease.

“This is an ongoing lease dispute between a private business owned by Ms. Pilip’s husband and a landlord,” a Nassau County GOP spokesperson said.

A party spokesperson said Pilip was not available Thursday to be interviewed by POLITICO.

“The fact that she’s a Democrat, that actually could be a plus because that is more of a Democratic district,” former Republican Rep. Pete King said in an interview.

“She’s a proven vote-getter,” he said, recounting how Pilip worked and campaigned while pregnant and after having twins. (She is the mother of seven children.)

New York Republicans — determined to avoid another Santos saga — have conducted about 20 candidate interviews with a dozen or so selection committee members sitting in on each session, several people involved in the process told POLITICO.

They’ve also enlisted the help of three outside firms to perform background checks.

The vetting has been intense and the dirt easy to come by.

And even those candidates whose flaws have been exposed said they would expect nothing less as the GOP seeks to hold on to the seat.

“Santos is arguably the most ineffective member in the history of the Congress, recent history for sure,” said Afghanistan War veteran Kellen Curry, a Republican candidate who interviewed with the selection committee. “If we want to avoid that, if we want to be in a position where our interests and issues are being advocated for without distraction, then yeah, we do need to vet the candidates. It all needs to come out.”

Another GOP contender who was under consideration, business owner and Israeli Defense Forces veteran Daniel Norber, said, “Because of the whole Santos fiasco, they want to make sure everything is done correctly right now. I’m completely supportive.”

Kellen, Norber and others who were in the running said they will coalesce behind the Republican Party pick.

Olivia Beavers and Jeff Coltin contributed reporting.

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