A man climbed on stage and tried to stab U.S. congressman Lee Zeldin on Thursday as he gave a speech in his run for New York governor, the candidate and authorities said.
Zeldin, the Republican candidate, was unhurt and his attacker arrested at the campaign stop in Fairport, N.Y., 15 kilometres east of Rochester in Western New York.
“His words as he tried to stab me a few hours ago were, ‘You’re done,'” the Republican politician tweeted, thanking attendees who helped confront the man, including his running mate, former New York Police Department deputy inspector Alison Esposito.
“I’m OK…. Fortunately, I was able to grab his wrist and stop him for a few moments until others tackled him.”
His words as he tried to stab me a few hours ago were “you’re done”, but several attendees, including <a href=”https://twitter.com/EspositoforNY?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@EspositoforNY</a>, quickly jumped into action & tackled the guy. <br><br>Law enforcement was on the scene within minutes. <br><br>The attacker will likely be instantly released under NY’s laws. <a href=”https://t.co/wZEyIyrjFe”>pic.twitter.com/wZEyIyrjFe</a>
Monroe County Sheriff’s Office identified the suspect as David Jakubonis, 43, of Fairport. The motive was unclear.
Video footage posted on social media by witnesses showed a man wearing a black baseball cap quickly approach Zeldin from the side of the stage at the rally in upstate New York.
Zeldin pushed the suspect away before both men tumbled to the ground as several others tried to subdue the suspect.
Campaign opponent Hochul condemns attack
Jakubonis, who is charged with second-degree attempted assault, had a weapon in his hand and swung it toward Zeldin’s neck, the sheriff’s office said in a statement. Photos from social media appeared to show an object with at least two sharp points.
Members of the audience and Zeldin’s campaign team restrained Jakubonis until deputies arrived and took him into custody, the statement said.
The suspect was arraigned in Perinton Town Court and released on his own recognizance.
My team has informed me about the incident at Lee Zeldin’s campaign event tonight. Relieved to hear that Congressman Zeldin was not injured and that the suspect is in custody. I condemn this violent behavior in the strongest terms possible — it has no place in New York.
A spokesperson for Zeldin’s campaign, Katie Vincentz, said Zeldin finished his speech following the incident and thanked law enforcement officers who responded to the attack.
“Relieved to hear that Congressman Zeldin was not injured and that the suspect is in custody,” tweeted incumbent New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat and Zeldin’s opponent in the race.
“I condemn this violent behaviour in the strongest terms possible — it has no place in New York.”
State Republican chair Nick Langworthy called on Hochul to issue a security detail for Zeldin to protect him on the campaign trail.
“This could have gone a lot worse. This could have really ended in a horrible way tonight and this is unacceptable,” he said.
Avi Small, Hochul’s press secretary, referred questions about providing Zeldin with a security detail to New York state police.
Zeldin, an Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who has represented eastern Long Island in U.S. Congress since 2015, is a staunch ally of former president Donald Trump and was among the Republicans in Congress who voted against certifying the 2020 election results.
He has focused his campaign on fighting crime but faces an uphill battle against Hochul. He’ll need to persuade independent voters — which outnumber Republicans in the state — as well as Democrats in order to win the general election.
Democrats are expected to focus on Zeldin’s vocal defence of Trump during both of his impeachments, as well as Zeldin’s objection to the 2020 election results.