Perry Gershon heads into his rematch against the incumbent Congressman Lee Zeldin with momentum. He closed the gap late in the previous race two years ago, and Zeldin presumably is more vulnerable this time around, after two tumultuous years of supporting President Donald Trump.
Gershon was surprised, if not irked, that he has to face primary challengers.
“Why? It’s a valid question. I ran a good race. I had momentum on my side. If I had a couple more weeks, I could have won,” Gershon said.
Bridget Fleming, a former Southampton Town councilwoman who has represented the East End in the state legislature since 2015, is the latest to announce her candidacy and could prove to be the biggest threat to Gershon in the primary.
“Lee Zeldin has spent more time joining those who are circling their wagons around President Trump than he has looking out for the communities in our district,” Fleming said. “It’s time we turn the tide. I’ve fought for this district for years and I’m ready to deliver for it in Washington.”
Nancy Goroff, a professor and chairwoman of Stony Brook University’s chemistry department, threw her hat into the Congressional ring in July, emphasizing her credentials as a scientist.
David Gokhshtein, an investor and entrepreneur, has also entered the fray.
Gershon said he would take on the primary challenge with gusto. About the race two years ago, he noted, “I won in Southold, the first Democrat in a long time. I ran a good campaign in Brookhaven. My message resounded,” said Gershon. He intends to get his message out ahead of the primary.
Zeldin, meanwhile, is doing just that. He was named to President Trump’s impeachment defense team last week and has emerged as one of the president’s most trusted allies in Congress. He was featured on Sean Hannity’s Fox TV show last week.
Zeldin’s shortcomings make him vulnerable nonetheless, Gershon opined. “He’s a talking head spreading misinformation,” Gershon said, though he acknowledged Zeldin “has the ear of the president.”
Gershon and Zeldin are both Jewish. Gershon said he realizes that Zeldin, a Republican, has made inroads with the Jewish vote because of the perception by some that Democrats in Washington have developed an anti-Israeli sentiment.
“I am concerned there are elements who don’t have strong bonds with Israel,” Gershon said, referring to U.S. representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar. Gershon said the best way to assure a weakening with Tel Aviv doesn’t occur is to “support the candidates” — like himself — that support Israel.
Gershon said he understands the Trump impeachment proceedings are viewed by some as a waste of time since acquittal seems like a forgone conclusion.
“Look, Trump did something wrong and maybe all it accomplishes is educating the people,” Gershon commented. More important is for Congress to work together, he said, and “get over the tribalism. We have problems like health insurance and immigration we need to address.”
“The president never should have been impeached in the first place,” Zeldin maintained. “The past few months on this circus should have been dedicated towards finding common ground on a number of other critical issues.”