NEW YORK – A man accused of attacking U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, the Republican candidate for New York governor, at an upstate event by apparently trying to stab the congressman was arrested and charged with attempted assault.
“I’m OK,” Zeldin said in a statement after the assault Thursday. “Fortunately, I was able to grab his wrist and stop him for a few moments until others tackled him.”
A Monroe County sheriff's spokesperson said David Jakubonis, 43, was arrested after trying to attack Zeldin and was later arraigned on a charge of attempted assault in the second degree. He has been released without bail. It's not clear whether Jakubonis has an attorney who can speak for him. A message seeking comment was left at a number listed for Jakubonis.
The incident happened as Zeldin, who is challenging incumbent Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul this November, was addressing a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in the town of Perinton, outside Rochester.
The attacker climbed onto a low stage where the congressman spoke to a crowd of dozens, flanked by bales of hay and American flags. A video posted on Twitter shows the two falling to the ground as other people try to intervene.
The attacker swung his weapon toward Zeldin’s neck and told him, “You’re done,” according to the sheriff's spokesperson, Deputy Brendan Hurley.
Among those who helped to subdue the attacker was Zeldin’s running mate, former New York Police Department Deputy Inspector Alison Esposito, said state GOP Chair Nick Langworthy.
Langworthy told The Associated Press that he didn't have any details on the attacker or his weapon but exchanged text messages with Zeldin afterward while the congressman was speaking to police.
“He is fine. He’s not seriously injured. It’s just a chaotic scene there,” Langworthy said. He said Zeldin had “just a little scrape” but it wasn’t what anyone would consider an injury.
A spokesperson for Zeldin said Friday that the candidate planned to continue his campaign appearances.
In a statement, Hochul condemned the attack and said she was “relieved to hear that Congressman Zeldin was not injured and that the suspect is in custody.”
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.
Hochul’s press secretary Avi Small 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 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 defense of Trump during both of his impeachments and objection to the election results.
Associated Press reporter Karen Matthews contributed to this report.