Gershon Appears to Be Democrats' Choice to Face Zeldin
This article has been updated with the print version.
Perry Gershon of East Hampton was the apparent winner in New York’s First Congressional District primary election and will be the Democratic Party’s nominee to challenge Representative Lee Zeldin in the midterm election on Nov. 6.
Unofficial results from the Suffolk County Board of Elections on Tuesday night had Mr. Gershon ahead of Kate Browning, a former county legislator, with 7,226 votes to 6,159, or 35.5 percent to 30.3 percent. Three other candidates — Vivian Viloria-Fisher, David Pechefsky, and Elaine DiMasi — were far behind, with 16.3, 11.9, and 5.9 percent of the vote, respectively.
The unofficial result tracks with Mr. Gershon’s assertion, made at a fund-raiser at an East Hampton residence on June 9, that his campaign’s polling indicated a two-way race between himself and Ms. Browning. On Tuesday morning, moments after he, his wife, and their two sons voted at the Emergency Services Building in East Hampton, Mr. Gershon said that his campaign had conducted three rounds of polling with the result the same each time.
In what could be a sign of Democrats’ enthusiasm in the first federal elections since President Trump was elected, turnout was significantly higher than in 2016, when Anna Throne-Holst, the former Southampton Town supervisor, defeated David Calone in the Democratic primary election. According to yesterday’s unofficial result, 20,351 Democrats cast a vote, versus 12,641 in 2016.
Mr. Gershon, who spent 25 years in commercial real estate lending, vastly outspent his challengers for the nomination, his advertisements ubiquitous on television and in mailings. During his campaign for the nomination, he told voters that Mr. Trump’s election was the catalyst for his candidacy. Mr. Trump is “a con man” who routinely topped a list of people lenders should avoid, Mr. Gershon often told voters during the primary campaign. He has criticized Mr. Zeldin for his support of the president.
Mr. Gershon said on Tuesday morning that voters were most concerned with “who’s the most electable” candidate in a race against Mr. Zeldin. In a statement issued by his campaign on Tuesday night, he said that Suffolk County is “energized and ready for a change.” Mr. Zeldin and other Republicans in Congress, he charged, are “leading the effort to take away health care from millions of Americans, putting the interests of the corporate gun lobby ahead of the safety of our children, denying the existence of climate change — or worse, supporting policies that accelerate it, and raising taxes on the middle class while giving tax breaks to special interests and adding trillions to our national debt.”
In his own statement issued on Tuesday night, Mr. Zeldin revealed a likely line of attack on his challenger, referring to him as “Park Avenue Perry” five times. “Congrats to Park Avenue Perry on buying his way into a general election,” he said. “It’s amazing that the Democratic Party was so desperate that they nominated a liberal Manhattan Democrat who has never even voted here in a November election for Congress. . . . Having just changed his residency into the district from Manhattan this past year, he has more in common with radicals like [New York City Mayor] Bill de Blasio and [House minority leader] Nancy Pelosi than the residents of our congressional district.”
“I’m very proud of what we did,” Mr. Gershon said on Tuesday morning. “Win or lose, I think we ran a positive campaign from start to finish. We got our name out, we built a team. I’ve been complimented across the board by my supporters, and Kate’s supporters, for the quality of campaign I ran. I certainly walk away with no regrets.”
While Democrats may be energized, their chances of success in the First Congressional District on Nov. 6 are not thought to be strong.
The Cook Political Report, an independent, nonpartisan newsletter that analyzes elections, campaigns, and political trends, puts the First Congressional District race in its “Likely Republican” column. But Democrats have scored wins in several special elections since Mr. Trump was elected president, including in what were thought to be solid Republican districts and states.
The Democrats’ primary contest to challenge Mr. Zeldin reflected national trends: Three of the five candidates were women, and two were mounting their first campaign. Ms. Browning, a former school bus driver, and Ms. Viloria-Fisher, a former teacher, both served multiple terms in the Legislature. Ms. DiMasi spent 21 years as a physicist and project manager at Brookhaven National Laboratory.
Mr. Pechefsky made an unsuccessful bid for City Council in 2009, running on the Green Party ticket. He was a longtime staffer for the City Council, and has worked for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Mayor’s Office of Appointments.
The First Congressional District went strongly for Trump in 2016, giving him a 12-point lead over Hillary Clinton, but in 2008 and 2012, Barack Obama carried the district.