U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, the Republican candidate for New York governor, was assaulted by a man who apparently tried to stab him at an upstate event Thursday but the congressman escaped serious injury.
“I’m OK,” Zeldin said in a statement. “Fortunately, I was able to grab his wrist and stop him for a few moments until others tackled him.”
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.
The attacker climbed onto a low stage where the congressman spoke to a crowd of dozens outside Rochester, 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.
In conjunction with the incident, a 43-year-old man from a Rochester suburb was charged with second-degree attempted assault, the county sheriff told the Times.
The suspect “was arraigned in Perinton Town Court and released on his own recognizance,” the sheriff’s department said in a statement.
His words as he tried to stab me a few hours ago were “you’re done”, but several attendees, including @EspositoforNY, quickly jumped into action & tackled the guy.
Law enforcement was on the scene within minutes.
The attacker will likely be instantly released under NY’s laws. pic.twitter.com/wZEyIyrjFe
— Lee Zeldin (@leezeldin) July 22, 2022
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.
Hochul quickly took a stand. She condemned the attack and said she was “relieved to hear that Congressman Zeldin was not injured and that the suspect is in custody.”
Take a look —
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.
— Kathy Hochul (@KathyHochul) July 22, 2022
Deputy Brendan Hurley, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson, gave a statement to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle that said the office “is aware of an incident at the speech of gubernatorial candidate Zeldin this evening. A suspect is in custody and Major Crimes is investigating.”
New York’s penal code defines terrorism as a politically motivated crime.
“A person is guilty of a crime of terrorism when, with intent to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, influence the policy of a unit of government by intimidation or coercion, or affect the conduct of a unit of government by murder, assassination or kidnapping, he or she commits a specified offense,” the statute says.
In other words, prosecutors will likely need to prove a political motive in order to push a terrorism charge. Still, some observers have called the incident an assassination attempt.
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. In his first ad for the general election, he promised to fire Manhattan county prosecutor Alvin Bragg.
“Someone tried to stab me onstage during this evening’s rally,” Zeldin said after Thursday’s attack in a statement obtained by The New York Times. “I’m as resolute as ever to do my part to make New York safe again.”
Despite the new salience of crime, Zeldin faces an uphill battle against Hochul in deep blue New York. He’ll need to persuade independent voters — which outnumber Republicans in the state — as well as Democrats in order to win the general election.
If upstate New York were its own state, it would likely be a swing state, depending on the precise boundary between upstate and downstate.
Still, the Democrats have dominated state-level politics for 20 years.
New York has not elected a Republican statewide since 2002, the year of former Gov. George Pataki’s successful bid for reelection.
Among voters, registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by about two to one. In New York City, the ratio is about seven to one.
Zeldin represents suburbs of New York City. Hochul represented the suburbs of Buffalo before assuming statewide office in 2015. Last year, she became first governor from upstate since Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Democrats are expected to focus on Zeldin’s vocal defense of Trump during both of his impeachments and his objection to 2020’s election results.
The Horn editorial team and the Associated Press contributed to this article.