NEW YORK (AP) — A man brandishing a sharp object attacked U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin as the Republican candidate for New York Governor who 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. “Luckily I was able to grab his wrist and hold him back for a while until others attacked him.”
David Jakubonis, 43, was arraigned and released, a spokesman for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department said. It is not clear whether Jakubonis has a lawyer who can speak for him. A message was left asking for comment on a song listed for Jakubonis.
Jakubonis is an army veteran who was deployed to Iraq in 2009 as a medical laboratory technician.
The incident happened when Zeldin, who in November is challenging incumbent Democratic government Kathy Hochul, addressed a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in the town of Perinton, outside Rochester.
The attacker climbed onto a low podium where the congressman addressed a crowd of dozens, flanked by bales of hay and American flags.
Videos taken by people in the audience show Jakubonis walking up to Zeldin and saying, “You’re ready,” then trying to grab him, bringing a pointed object in the shape of a cat’s head to Zeldin’s neck. as he extended his hand to the congressman. Photos of the object suggested it was a key ring meant to be worn on the knuckles for self-defense.
Jacob Murphy, a spokesperson for Zeldin’s convention bureau, said on Friday that Zeldin had a minor scrape from the incident. He said Zeldin hadn’t received any specific threats lately.
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 officers arrived on the scene within minutes. Security will be increased from our first event this morning.”
Among those who helped subdue the attacker was Zeldin’s running mate, former New York Police Department Deputy Superintendent Alison Esposito.
In a statement, Hochul condemned the attack, saying she was “relieved to learn that Congresswoman Zeldin was not injured and that the suspect is in custody.”
Nick Langworthy, chairman of the New York Republican State Committee, called on Hochul to provide a security detail for Zeldin to protect him on the campaign trail.
“This could have ended much worse. This really could have ended in a terrible 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 East 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 will have to convince both independent voters — who outnumber Republicans in the state — and Democrats to win the general election.
Democrats are expected to focus on Zeldin’s vocal defense of Trump during both his impeachment and his objection to the election results.
Associated Press reporter Karen Matthews contributed to this report.