The stage is finally set for what will likely be a fierce campaign leading up to the November midterm elections.
Perry Gershon, a largely self-funded first-time candidate for political office, who spent years as a commercial mortgage lender and a small business owner, defeated four other Democrats aiming to take down incumbent 1st District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) June 26.
More than 20,300 1st District voters turned out to vote in the primary, which was open to only those registered as members of the party, as per New York State law. Gershon secured 7,226 votes, beating former Suffolk County Legislator Kate Browning, his closest competitor, by about 1,000 votes. Vivian Viloria-Fisher, another former legislator, finished third with 3,314 votes. In 2016, about 12,600 registered Democrats went to the polls on primary day to choose between Anna Throne-Holst and Dave Calone.
“The voters showed that we’re tired of what’s going on in Washington,” Gershon said to a room full of supporters and volunteers at his campaign headquarters in Setauket when it became clear his lead would hold up. He thanked his family and those who worked to help him win the nomination, as well as the other four candidates, who he said ran a clean race with an eye on unifying post-primary all along. “Our elected leaders are not responsive to what people are looking for. People want a new breed, and that’s what I stand for.”
Zeldin, who has been quiet about his potential challengers, wasted no time getting the campaign started on Twitter once Gershon became the presumed victor.
“Park Ave Perry may have bought himself the Democratic Party nomination in NY-1, but our Congressional seat is not for sale,” the incumbent wrote. “NY-1 isn’t electing a far left, Pelosi-loving, NYC Democrat who registered in our district very recently just to run for Congress.”
In an interview after his win, Gershon said he intends to make his campaign about health care, the environment and creating high-wage jobs in the 1st District.
“I’m really excited, I feel like people believed in me and I’m so happy for it,” he said.
Many of those believers were people who readily admitted they’d never gotten much involved in politics in the past.
“I’ve seen a lot of people, like at my school, very few people who cared about politics beforehand but after the March for Our Lives, after the result of the Never Again movement, and even after what’s happening at the border right now, far more young people are getting involved,” said Scott Egnor, a Ward Melville High School student who helped organize the youth-led local gun control protests in March. He cited Gershon’s desire to ban assault-style weapons and strengthen background checks as the driving force behind his motivation to volunteer for his campaign. “Even at the office, he still wears his March for Our Lives hat, and I think that spoke to me a lot.”
Browning said in an interview from her watch party in Patchogue she’s not sure what her next move might be in politics, but vowed to support Gershon’s efforts to flip the seat in November.
“It’s about taking out Lee Zeldin, and we all need to regroup and support [Gershon],” she said.
All five candidates told TBR News Media in May they intended to support the primary winner.
Reporting contributed by Rita J. Egan.