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Man charged with felony after attack on GOP gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin in Perinton

Rep. Lee Zeldin speaks to reporters about his campaign for governor.
Dan Clark
New York NOW
Rep. Lee Zeldin speaks to reporters about his campaign for governor.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, the Republican candidate for New York governor, was attacked by a man with a pointed weapon at an event Thursday night in Perinton but was uninjured, his campaign said.

Zeldin was giving a speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post 8495 in Perinton when a man climbed onstage and appeared to begin wrestling with the congressman, said Katie Vincentz, a spokesperson for Zeldin's campaign.

The man came from off site about an hour into the event and maybe 15 minutes into Zeldin’s speech, approaching from a commercial lot next door. He made his way through the crowd, and witnesses said he appeared unsteady. He wore a military branch T-shirt and when greeted by a post member, allegedly brushed past.

“My post member looked over and said, you know, ‘Hey, how's it going?’” said Michael Cialini, commander of the VFW post, recounting what was later relayed to him by the member, a former corrections officer. “And he says, ‘Hey, brother, I'm sorry, I've got to go do this.'"

As post members began converging on the man, and the makeshift stage, he allegedly got up on the flatbed trailer with Zeldin, approached him and raised his arm. Zeldin pushed the man’s arm away once. And when the man raised it again, Assembly candidate and veterans advocate Joe Chenelly tackled the man, and others helped to subdue and disarm him.

“I was able to get both of his arms, kind of give him a bear hug and tackle him to the ground,” Chenelly said. “He was trying to swing the blade at me as he went down to the ground, (but I) was able to hold him there."

Someone located zip ties, which were used to restrained the man, witnesses said. Some thought the man was intoxicated, but Chenelly said he did not smell alcohol and instead thought the man was having a mental health episode.

“He was vocal but incoherent,” Chenelly said, echoing Cialini’s account that the man was making sounds but not cries or yells. “At the very end, he said that he had fought in Iraq. … And, you know, that struck me. And he was already in cuffs, and I stopped at that time and let them know that, you know, he has to deal with the way he's done tonight but if there's services he needs, we'll make sure that he gets those.”

A video of the event was posted on Twitter:

Zeldin’s campaign said the attacker was taken into custody and the congressman continued his speech. He is challenging incumbent Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul this November.

"Thanks to the swift action of several brave eventgoers, the perpetrator was subdued," New York GOP Chair Nick Langworthy said in a statement.

Langworthy said Zeldin had “just a little scrape” but it wasn't what anyone would consider an injury. The chair said he was told that Zeldin’s running mate, former New York Police Department Deputy Inspector Alison Esposito, was there and among those who helped to subdue the man.

Zeldin issued this statement late Thursday night: "Thank you to everyone who reached out following tonight’s attack in Fairport. Someone tried to stab me on stage during this evening’s rally, but fortunately, I was able to grab his wrist and stop him for a few moments until others tackled him.

"I’m ok, and Alison Esposito, and all other attendees are safe. The attacker is in custody. Grateful for the attendees who stepped up quickly to assist and the law enforcement officers who quickly responded. I’m as resolute as ever to do my part to make New York safe again. This suspect will likely be right back out on the street immediately."

The Monroe County Sheriff's office released a statement early Friday morning saying that when the suspect approached Zeldin, he had a weapon in his hand, swung it toward Zeldin's neck and told him, "You're done."

The suspect was identified as 43-year-old David Jakubonis of Fairport. He is charged with second-degree attempted assault, a felony. Jakubonis was arraigned in Perinton Town Court and released on his own recognizance.

Langworthy is calling 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.

Hochul, in a statement, condemned the attack and said she was “relieved to hear that Congressman Zeldin was not injured and that the suspect is in custody.”

Zeldin, an Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who has represented eastern Long Island in 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.


Thursday's assault didn't keep Zeldin from making his scheduled campaign stops across the state Friday, including here in Onondaga County. Zeldin said at a stop in Jordan that New York’s cashless bail law means the suspect, David Jakubonis, was released hours later without being offered mental health or other services.

"I would argue that they're doing a disservice to the person who attacked us on stage last night. Because, by law, they have to rush to get him released. Where's the help?"

Zeldin says there are many professionals available to help, as long as law enforcement has the discretion to hold the suspect for observation.

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