New York Republicans selected Mazi Melesa Pilip, an Ethiopian-born, Orthodox Jew and Israel Defense Forces veteran, on Thursday to run for New York’s 3rd Congressional District.
A current Nassau County legislator, Pilip is running for the seat that Republican Rep. George Santos held before being expelled from the U.S. House of Representatives, on Dec. 1, following federal criminal indictments for fraud. It was also revealed that Santos had fabricated his backstory, including his supposed Jewish heritage.
Santos’s inventions stand in dramatic contrast with Pilip’s real-life biography. Born in Ethiopia, she emigrated to Israel as a refugee in 1991 as part of an Israeli operation to airlift Ethiopian Jews. She served in the IDF as a paratrooper before moving to the United States with her husband and becoming a U.S. citizen. A mother of seven, Pilip was first elected to the Nassau County legislature in 2021.
The New York 3rd district special election holds national significance, given how narrowly Republicans control the House. Following the expulsion of Santos, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) wields an eight-seat, fractious majority.
“Winning this battleground seat is critical to maintaining the GOP majority in the House of Representatives,” Matt Brooks, CEO of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said in a statement. He endorsed Pilip, whom he called “a remarkable candidate whose strength of character and firm principles are clear to anyone who looks at her life story and her work.”
NY-03 was one of several Republican pickups in New York in the 2022 midterms, though Pilip will face a difficult challenger in the Democratic nominee, Tom Souzzi, who previously held the seat and has been a figure in Long Island politics for decades.
The special election will be held on Feb. 13.