NEW YORK — A man brandishing a sharp object who attacked U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin as the Republican candidate for New York governor delivered a speech in western New York has been charged with attempted assault.
“I’m OK,” Zeldin said in a statement after the incident Thursday. “Fortunately, I was able to grab his wrist and stop him for a few moments until others tackled him.”
David Jakubonis, 43, was arraigned and released, a Monroe County sheriff’s spokesperson said. 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.
Jakubonis is an Army veteran who was deployed to Iraq in 2009 as a medical laboratory technician.
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.
Videos taken by people in the audience showed Jakubonis walk up to Zeldin saying, “You’re done,” and then try to grab him, bringing a pointed object shaped like a cat’s head toward Zeldin’s neck as he reached for the congressman. Photos of the object suggested it was a keychain meant to be worn on the knuckles for self defense.
Jacob Murphy, a spokesperson for Zeldin’s congressional office, said Friday that Zeldin had a minor scrape from the incident. He said Zeldin had not received any specific threats recently.
In response to a question about what security was at the event, Murphy said: “Congressman Zeldin had private security at the event and law enforcement arrived on the scene within a few minutes. Security will be increased starting with our first event this morning.”
Among those who helped to subdue the attacker was Zeldin’s running mate, former New York Police Department Deputy Inspector Alison Esposito.
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.”
New York Republican State Committee Chairman 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.
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.