Photo of Mazi Pilip and Tom Suozzi

Six things to know about Mazi Pilip and Tom Suozzi, the candidates who sought to replace former Rep. George Santos

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Update: This story has been updated to reflect former Rep. Tom Suozzi’s victory in the New York’s third congressional district special election on Feb. 13.

The special election to fill the congressional seat of disgraced and expelled former U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) saw Nassau County legislator and “rising star” Mazi Melesa Pilip, an Ethiopian-born Israeli émigré, compete against an establishment Democrat, former U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi.

Pilip, 44, who grew up in a remote Ethiopian village and emigrated to the United States in 1991 after serving in the Israeli military as a paratrooper, has been described as having a “remarkable political biography.” Suozzi, 61, who served as the mayor of Glen Cove, N.Y., the county executive of Nassau County and later the congressman for New York’s third district of Long Island, from 2017 to 2023, before retiring, had a particularly strong fundraising operation, pulling in roughly $4.5 million from donors over the past two months, Federal Elections Commission reporting shows.

Suozzi ended up winning the special election handily, roughly 54% to Pilip’s 46%.

The race to fill the Santos seat was an important one and, thankfully for voters, no major skeletons were unearthed about the two candidates so far. Among the minor issues that have cropped during the campaign: The Pilip medical practice is embroiled in a landlord dispute over unpaid rent and Suozzi appears to have been ticketed for speeding in Flagstaff, Arizona, in January 2023, resulting in a defensive-driving course.

Those a far cry from Santos’s ongoing federal indictment and expulsion from Congress on the heels of a damning House ethics report.

Here are six things to know about Pilip and Suozzi, gleaned from public records obtained by MuckRock.

1. Millions are flowing into both campaigns, from many different sources, but the funding advantage goes to Suozzi

For her county legislative campaign, Mazi Melesa Pilip reported raising a relatively small amount, $121,433.93, from June 2021 to January 2024. Her largest single individual contribution — $2,619 — came from Ronald S. Lauder, an heir to the Estée Lauder cosmetics company. She also received $3,500 from the New York State Association of Realtors political-action committee.

Contributions to her congressional campaign have added up much more quickly.

Pilip reported raising more than $1.3 million from Dec. 16, 2023, to Jan. 24, FEC data shows. Lewis Stahl, who in 2019 was sentenced to 30 months in prison for evading federal income taxes on more than $21 million in business income, gave Pilip $6,600. Ross Perot, Jr., a Dallas businessman and real estate developer — son of former presidential candidate Ross Perot — contributed $3,300. Maximo Alvarez, the Cuban-born president of Sunshine Gasoline Distributors, also contributed $3,300.

But Suozzi’s campaign fundraising has far outstripped Pilip’s.

Since Jan. 1, Suozzi has raised $4.5 million, according to FEC data. He received 70 contributions totaling nearly $97,000 from attorneys at the Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison law firm. Cindy Miscikowski, a former Los Angeles city councilwoman who now is chairwoman of The Ring Group, which manages a real estate portfolio with over 2,600 apartments and boat slips in Marina del Rey and Los Angeles, gave $6,600. Leonard Lauder, an heir to the Estée Lauder cosmetics company, gave $3,300. Nancy Pelosi’s campaign contributed $4,000. Actor Rob Reiner gave $2,000.

In a 48-hour contribution report filed Tuesday, Pilip reported receiving more than $125,000. Among the donations were $5,000 from the Patriots Always Triumph PAC, which is associated with Texas GOP Rep. Patrick Fallon, and $4,000 from Iowa Republican Rep. Ashley Hinson’s Fight On PAC.

Suozzi filed 48-hour contribution reports on Thursday and Friday that totaled more than $148,000. Among the donations was $1,000 from Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and $3,300 from New York Mets owner and hedge fund financier Steven Cohen.

Independent groups, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, have spent $9.5 million on advertising against Pilip since late December, FEC data shows. Independent groups, including the National Republican Congressional Committee, have spent $2.3 million advertising against Suozzi since January, according to FEC reporting.

2. After leaving Congress, Tom Suozzi, a lawyer and accountant by training, made $535,000 as a consultant in 2003 alone.

After retiring from Congress for a failed bid to run for governor, Suozzi started his own consulting firm: Suozzi Consulting. It’s not the first time Suozzi, a lawyer and accountant by training, has started his own company. In 2015 and 2017, he started an accounting firm and property management business out of his Glen Cove home, state business records show.

But in less than one year of business, Suozzi’s new consulting gig generated $535,000, federal financial disclosure reports show.

Congressional officials are required to disclose any client who pays at least $5,000 for services in the previous year. For Suozzi, that meant seven clients:

  • Actum, a fast-growing global consulting firm based in New York City. Four of its employees gave Suozzi’s campaign $2,500;

  • New York Community Bank of Hicksville;

  • Sweetwater Royalties, a privately-held Colorado company that holds 4 million acres of land used for mining in the Western U.S. and Michigan;

  • East 119th Street Development Corp., an eight-story East Harlem apartment and retail complex being developed by Sharon Cohen;

  • LiRo Group of Syosset, whose chairman gave Suozzi’s campaign $5,700, its CEO gave $2,000 and an attorney for the company gave $1,000;

  • E&A Construction of Woodbury, whose office manager and a contractor each gave $3,300 to Suozzi’s campaign; and

  • Fos Development Corp. of Queens, where an employee gave $500 to Suozzi’s campaign.

If Suozzi wins election to New York’s third congressional district, his consulting business will likely be inactive during his time in office, in accordance with congressional conflict-of-interest rules.

3. Mazi Pilip, a Republican county legislator, has been a registered Democrat for 12 years — and still is, according to New York State Board of Elections

In November 2021, Mazi Melesa Pilip defeated a four-term incumbent Democrat, Ellen Birnbaum, by seven percentage points to represent Long Island’s 10th district, a swath of the Great Neck peninsula just east of New York City. It was an impressive victory for a political challenger who had never held elected office, vying for a seat that had never been held by a Republican.

But, as of this week, Pilip is still a registered Democrat and has been for nearly 12 years, since November 2012, according to New York State Board of Elections records. Her campaign says she has no plans to change her party registration until after next week’s special election, and has called it a non-issue given the moderate political leanings of Long Island’s third district.

Her voting history also shows Pilip has voted in five general elections in Nassau County, in 2016, 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023. It’s unclear how Pilip voted in each of those races. Her campaign didn’t respond to a request for more information about how she voted, and she refused to tell CNN whether she voted for former President Donald Trump in 2016 or 2020.

(Disclosure: For privacy concerns, we’ve redacted Pilip’s date of birth and home address on her voter history and registration.)

4. Mazi Pilip, who has seven children, has mostly worked for her husband’s cardiology practice— and he’s tried a few different medical ventures to make money, including an electrolyte powder

Dr. Adalbert Pilip, Mazi’s Ukrainian-born husband is a board-certified cardiologist. He received his medical training in Israel, completed his residency at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine in The Bronx, and now has a private practice with two locations, one in Smithtown and the other in Bohemia, N.Y. In both her federal and state financial disclosure forms, Mazi Pilip has disclosed working for her husband’s medical practice and taking a salary.

Since 2018, Dr. Pilip has also created several New York companies to start new business ventures, including Medsched LLC, with two fellow doctors; Pilip Medical Treatments P.C., a “medical treatment facility;” and Infuse Chi Inc.

Infuse Chi has one product under the name LEKTR-A-LYTE, a flavored hydration powder “engineered to replete vital electrolytes we lose everyday.” Its website leans heavily on Dr. Pilip’s medical credentials, with its “Our Story” page describing how the $10 powders leverage “medical science and common sense.”

“We observed a correlation between electrolyte hydration and improvement in common and subtle symptoms of dehydration such as headaches, palpitations, muscle cramps, and a general feeling of unwellness,” the page reads. “For this reason, we have been proponents of electrolyte hydration.

We obtained all of the businesses’ incorporation documents from the New York Secretary of State’s office, which shows they are all still active.

5. Suozzi, who has faced scrutiny over reporting his stock trades, is now worth between $2.75 million and $6.3 million, due to real estate and his portfolio — along with a political friend’s valuable East Hamptons summer camp empire

Suozzi also has small interests in a number of real estate businesses, according to his latest congressional financial disclosure report, including two real estate projects, in Naples and Sarasota, Florida, one that is run by the heir to the Coca-Cola fortune, Asa Candler III, and a lucrative 90-unit residential apartment building, Royal Pines, in Marlboro, N.J., run by a real-estate company, Ferrari Investments.

Suozzi and his wife, Helene, paid off one of their mortgages — $500,000, for a custom-built, five-bedroom ranch-style home, situated on more than an acre in Glen Cove, purchased in 2011 — in just seven years, in 2018, before ultimately selling it, according to Nassau County real-estate records.

On a separate home in Glen Cove, Suozzi then took out a $900,000 home-equity line-of-credit loan in 2021, real estate records show.

6. The Pilips are breaking even financially, and own crypto and an ‘over-the-counter’ artificial intelligence stock

The Pilips are millionaires on paper but, digging a bit deeper into their finances, they’re basically breaking even.

The Pilips purchased a $1.5 million, 4,700-square-foot Tudor-style home in Great Neck in 2016 and switched mortgage lenders in September 2020, according to mortgage and deed records from the Nassau County Clerk’s office. At that time, the family had an $1.1 million unpaid balance on the new, adjustable-rate mortgage.

Political candidates aren’t required to list mortgages as liabilities on congressional financial disclosure reports and Mazi Pilip didn’t. Still, the $1.1 million mortgage debt — even after 3 ½ years of regular mortgage payments — puts a huge dent in the Pilip family’s net worth, which is largely tied up in Adalbart Pilip’s Smithtown medical practice and valued at between $1 million and $5 million.

His Bohemia medical practice, a new business, is “losing money,” Mazi Pilip disclosed in her original federal financial disclosure report. She removed that reference in an amended version of the report days later.

In addition, Dr. Adalbert Pilip still has between $50,000 and $100,000 worth of student loan debt from medical school; the couple paid between $100,000 and $250,000 worth of federal income taxes to the IRS in 2023; and Mazi Pilip’s personal credit card debt is listed as between $10,000 and $15,000. She makes about $80,000 as a New York state legislator.

The couple reported owning between $51,000 and $115,000 worth of an over-the-counter stock in an AI company, Artificial Intelligence Technology Solutions Inc., which is not traded on major exchanges, like the New York Stock Exchange, and is instead traded through a so-called “broker-dealer network.”

They also reported owning between $16,000 to $65,000 worth of two relatively new and low-cost crypto currencies: Stellar Lumens and Ripple.

Sunlight Search, a nonpartisan research organization focused on 2024 political candidates, contributed public records and research for this story.

Photo credits: Mazi Melesa Pilip campaign website and Ron Adar