Former congressman tapped as Democratic candidate in special election to replace George Santos

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FILE - Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-N.Y., right, speaks during a news conference with a bipartisan group of current or former elected officials who support Robert Zimmerman's campaign, Nov. 7, 2022, in Great Neck, N.Y. Former U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi will be the Democratic nominee in next year's special election to replace ousted congressman George Santos, New York Democrats announced Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

ALBANY, N.Y. – Former U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi will be the Democratic nominee in next year's special election to replace ousted congressman George Santos, New York Democrats announced Thursday.

Party leaders were tasked with choosing nominees for the Feb. 13 election, triggered when Santos’ fellow lawmakers voted to remove him from the U.S. House last week.

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In Suozzi, who previously held the congressional seat for six years, Democrats picked an experienced candidate with name recognition and an existing campaign footprint in the district.

“I will work day and night with both parties to deliver for the people to make living here more affordable, safer, and better,” Suozzi said in a statement. “I delivered for this district before, and I will do it again by putting you ahead of partisanship. Let’s reject the nonsense and get back to work.”

The race for the district, which includes parts of Long Island and a small section of the New York City borough of Queens, is expected to draw significant attention as both parties zero in on New York as a potential battleground for control of the House. Republicans have not yet announced their candidate.

The election also provides Democratic leaders in New York with a chance at redemption after the party lost a handful of suburban congressional districts in last year's elections, giving Republicans a House majority.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, drew heavy criticism for the losses in New York, and there has been a substantial financial and organizational effort from the party apparatus to retake the seats. She met with Suozzi this week in Albany to quiz him on his strategy for winning back the seat and to ensure he was in line with the Democratic agenda.

“The most important responsibility we have here in New York state, and I say this as the leader of the Democratic Party in New York, our responsibility is to take back the House of Representatives from the Santos-type Republican Party and to make sure Hakeem Jeffries is the speaker,” she said this week when asked about the meeting, which was first reported by the New York Times.

In the meeting, Suozzi also apologized for ethical questions he raised about the governor and her husband when he ran against her in the Democratic primary for governor last year.

“It was in his interest to make sure the conversation went well,” Hochul said.

Suozzi was elected to the House in 2016 and won reelection in 2020, before leaving to launch the unsuccessful campaign for governor. He also served as the mayor of Glen Cove from 1994 to 2001, and as Nassau County’s elected executive from 2002 to 2009.

“Tom Suozzi has a proven record of fighting for his constituents, fighting to safeguard our suburban way of life here on Long Island and Queens and always advocating for sensible solutions to the real challenges affecting everyday average Americans,” Democratic officials said in a statement announcing the nomination.

Potential GOP nominees for the special election include retired police detective Mike Sapraicone, Air Force veteran Kellen Curry and Nassau County legislator Mazi Pilip, an Ethiopian-born Jewish woman who served in the Israeli military, among others.

Though Democratic President Joe Biden won the district in 2020, Republicans have made strong political gains on Long Island as moderate suburban voters have gravitated toward the GOP in recent years. In local elections last month, Republicans won several races on the island, including contests in the Santos district.

Santos had been embroiled in scandal after winning the district last year. He became only the sixth member in the history of the House to be ousted by colleagues, and the third since the Civil War, when he was removed from the chamber last week.

He faces a criminal trial scheduled for next year on charges that he stole donor’s credit card information to make tens of thousands of dollars in unauthorized charges, among other things. He has pleaded not guilty.

The special election was called at a time of potential upheaval for New York’s congressional districts.

A redistricting lawsuit before the state’s highest court could lead to a lengthy process in which the state's congressional lines must be redrawn before the November 2024 election. If the lines are redrawn, that could make the special election in February possibly the last to play out in the district's current borders.