On Tuesday, former congressman and Democratic gubernatorial primary candidate Tom Suozzi recaptured New York’s third congressional district (NY–3) for his party. Suozzi, who previously held the seat vacated by disgraced representative George Santos, drew national attention and attracted almost $14 million in outside advertising to his opponent’s $8 million. New York Republicans, who had gained four congressional seats in the 2022 election, pinned their hopes on Mazi Pilip, a registered Democrat and second-term Nassau County legislator with a remarkable life story but limited name recognition. While the Democratic pickup will further narrow Republicans’ already razor-thin majority in Congress, the race’s outcome may not serve as a bellwether for other mostly suburban districts in November.

Democrats flipped the seat, but they didn’t do it running on a progressive platform. Suozzi campaigned as a relative moderate, frankly acknowledging the gravity of the migrant crisis and calling on the Biden administration to secure the border. Suozzi joined Governor Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams in calling for migrants who allegedly assaulted two NYPD officers to be deported. He also ran in opposition to New York’s recent criminal-justice measures, including bail reform.

If anything, Democrats’ main takeaway from this race should be to distance themselves from the Biden administration’s handling of issues like immigration. An Emerson College poll last month found that 33 percent of NY–3 voters approved of Biden’s job performance, while 59 percent disapproved. These are not reassuring signs for the president. “I think my whole campaign is a warning sign for Democrats,” Suozzi admitted recently, adding, “Crime and immigration and taxes is not a Republican message. It’s an American message.”

Suozzi capitalized on recent controversies in Washington, harping on Pilip’s opposition to a failed bipartisan immigration proposal that Suozzi claimed would have taken needed “action on [the border] crisis.” While Pilip was scathing in her rebuke of Biden’s border policies, she might have benefited from better explaining to NY–3’s generally moderate, affluent, and well-educated voters why the president already has the authority to secure the border more effectively. Biden could, for example, immediately place all migrants on expedited removal proceedings and urge ICE to deport criminal aliens, as Daniel DiMartino argues. Today’s political environment might not be conducive to nuance, but Pilip’s campaign needed a more robust defense of her positions.

The race was idiosyncratic in other ways that may limit its implications for November. Some voters who backed Santos two years ago likely felt burned by the ex-congressman’s duplicity and were easily persuaded to support a well-known figure like Suozzi. Special elections like the one in NY–3 also usually generate lower turnout; with 93 percent of the vote counted, only 169,567 ballots were cast, far lower than the 271,228 recorded in NY–3 two years ago. A nor’easter on Election Day also likely dampened turnout, giving greater weight to early-voting-day ballots, which tend to favor Democrats. 

And while Long Island has no doubt shifted rightward over the last several election cycles, the third district, making up most of northern Nassau County and a portion of eastern Queens, is hardly a right-wing bastion. Actively registered Democrats still outnumber actively registered Republicans in the district 208,815 to 150,416. Indeed, Suozzi, a Democrat, had occupied the district’s federal seat prior to his gubernatorial bid two years ago. Suozzi also leveraged the area’s political power-brokers, many of whom favor Democrats. As Politico notes, the Hotel Trades Council knocked on 60,000 doors for Suozzi, investing about $400,000 to lift his campaign, while AFL-CIO volunteers contacted over 200,000 voters, more than the total number of votes cast.

For New York Republicans, this loss is less momentous than the state’s upcoming redistricting efforts following state Democrats’ successful legal challenge last year. The current congressional map was drawn by a court-appointed expert seeking to increase political competition. The final redrawn districts will likely favor Democrats, though, putting other seats on Long Island and the Hudson Valley up for grabs.

For all New York voters, the recent election showed that both parties are unlikely to move the needle on the city and state’s most important issue: housing. As Eric Kober noted recently, Hochul and other leading state Democrats have prioritized winning seats over major land-use reforms. Indeed, when Suozzi ran against Hochul in the state’s Democratic primary two years ago, he criticized her proposal to legalize accessory dwelling units in an owner-occupied lot statewide, regardless of local zoning.

Suozzi scored congressional Democrats a win on Tuesday. Whether that victory lasts—and whether Republicans stand a meaningful chance at reclaiming NY–3—may hinge on what the state’s redrawn districts look like.

Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images


City Journal is a publication of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (MI), a leading free-market think tank. Are you interested in supporting the magazine? As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, donations in support of MI and City Journal are fully tax-deductible as provided by law (EIN #13-2912529).

Further Reading

Up Next