A man who attempted to stab US Rep. Lee Zeldin at a New York campaign rally on Thursday is still roaming free as the New York gubernatorial candidate said his ‘guard’ was completely down when he saw the attacker approach him wearing a veteran’s hat.
‘The first thing I saw was that he was wearing a hat that says he was a veteran and the way that I’m wired when I see somebody wearing a hat that is a veteran – my guard couldn’t possibly be more dropped,’ Zeldin said at a Friday press conference.
‘But at the same exact time. I noticed he had a weapon in his hand and it had two holes where he had two fingers through the holes. It had two – a sharp dagger like edges on it – and he was telling me “you’re done.'”
David Jakubonis, 43, of Fairport, confronted the Republican, who was giving a speech on bail reform, in Perinton, New York, a small town outside Rochester, as part of his ‘United to Fire Hochul’ campaign.
Jakubonis, thought to be an Iraq war veteran, was drunk when he launched his attack, according to WHEC-TV.
‘When he lifted up his hand and he was lunging for my throat area, the first thought was to grab onto his wrist and just to hold it because there were so many people around that I would expect there to be help – quickly – and that’s what happened,’ Zeldin said.
‘All security for all events for the remainder the campaign will be ramped up. That’s something that started this morning.’
He later added, ‘Absolutely we’re going to continue the rallies.’
David Jakubonis attacked gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin during his bail reform speech on Thursday. Jakuboniswas arrested and released hours later under the state’s lenient bail laws
Jakubonis was arrested and charged with attempted assault in the second degree. He was released within hours, just as Zeldin predicted he would.
Zeldin’s prediction was a clear reference to New York’s shoddy bail reform laws, which doesn’t require cash bail for most misdemeanors and non-violent felony charges, allowing criminals who haven’t been convicted of a crime to go free.
‘The first thing I will do after I’m sworn into office…. Is to remove a district attorney who refuses to enforce the law,’ Zeldin said on Friday while anticipating his win in the upcoming November election.
The press conference was briefly paused after an unidentified person collapsed while standing nearby Zeldin. Bystanders rushed to help the person before the conference resumed.
An unidentified person collapsed during Zeldin’s press conference on Friday morning. Zeldin briefly paused while others rushed to help
Zeldin proceeded minutes later to continue discussing his stance on cashless bail with reporters.
‘If you are the strongest advocate of cashless bail, under the argument that somebody shouldn’t be stuck in prison solely because they can’t afford $100 bail or whatever the best example would be used.’
‘If you look at the attacker from last night, I’m told he was intoxicated. I’m told that he had mental health issues… there’s a part of processing and arrest where people who need help are given the information and advice, sometimes appointments [on] where to go about your drug addiction, where to go about your mental health challenges.’
Zeldin added, ‘My first foremost concern about cashless bail and the need to overhaul it is dangerousness. The judges should have discretion to wait dangerousness. It’s about the victim.’
He further explained that cashless bail was a disservice to Jakubonis because by law he was rushed to be released rather than receiving mental health assistance.
‘Where’s the help for him in that process,’ Zeldin said. ‘It’s anti-criminal in a way where that person that you’re advocating for to try to get them out, didn’t get the help that they would have otherwise gotten if they had stayed there and worked with these professionals in the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.’
The state Senate claims the reform has led to fewer people behind bars and has contributed to increased crime.
Jakubonis was released hours after the attack without bail. Zeldin predicted he would be quickly released under New York policies that eliminated cashless bail for some offenses
Zeldin said releasing Jakubonis without allowing him to receive the mental health care he needs was a mistake
Zeldin further slammed Gov. Kathy Hochul for her light approach to crime and support of cashless bail while releasing ‘murderers’ and ‘rapist.’
‘We need the governor right now to be advocating for this because it’s the right thing to do for public safety, for security, for rising crime, to back the blue, to make sure that we’re defending our correctional officers who are now because assaulted.’
He continued, ‘For our victims families where they’re having to read about parole boards releasing cop killers and murderers and rapists without the victim and victim’s family being able to weigh in with their position.’
‘All this is being met right now with silence by the governor, she’s wrong for doing it,’ Zeldin said.
Zeldin further proposed implementing a law that includes protection against judges who insist letting out those who need to be kept behind bars.
Zeldin slammed New York Governor Kathy Hochul for remaining silent amid rising crime and the release of dangerous criminals. Hochul is pictured speaking at an event on the night that Zeldin was attacked in New York City where she was advocating for the city to host the 2024 Democratic National Convention
Jakubonis being released without bail sparked outrage from some political figures.
‘The guy who tried to stab Lee Zeldin in New York tonight has already been released from police custody,’ Desi Cuellar, congressional candidate wrote on Twitter. ‘New York has truly become a sick place run by criminals!’
Cuellar added, ‘Stop whatever you’re doing. A man tried to murder Lee Zeldin onstage last night. Call it what it is. He went up with a weapon and tried to stab him. That man was taken into police custody TO BE PROCESSED. He’s already been released AND DID NOT HAVE TO PAY BAIL!’
Radio host Larry O’Connor subtly slammed New York policies.
‘The State of New York immediately releasing @leezeldin’s attacker with no-cash bail is the best argument for electing Lee Zeldin that Lee Zeldin could have made,’ O’Connor wrote on Twitter.
Video from the scene shows Jakubonis enter the stage from slightly behind Zeldin, walk calmly up to him and eventually raise his arm toward the candidate’s neck.
A group of Zeldin supporters quickly subdued the attacker before he inflicted any damage and held him in place until authorities arrived to arrest the man.
A weapon, which appeared to be a pair of brass knuckles with two blades affixed, was recovered from the scene. The weapon featured a cat’s face with the words: ‘Made in the USA’ written across it.
That blade appears to have been made from hard plastic, it has since emerged, although authorities said it is just as strong and sharp as a metal equivalent.
Jakubonis was arraigned at Perinton Town Court and charged with attempted assault in the second degree. He was released on his own recognizance.
The suspect seen entering the stage while Zeldin was speaking. He can be heard saying: You’re done’
David Jakubonis, 43, being taken into custody by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department. He has been charged with attempted assault in the second degree
The suspect’s alleged weapon was handed over to authorities
‘Someone tried to stab me on stage during this evening’s rally, but fortunately, I was able to grab his wrist and stop him for a few moments until others tackled him,’ Zeldin tweeted.
The candidate wasn’t injured and returned to the stage after the suspect was arrested by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department.
Before Jakubonis was arrested, Zeldin supporters are said to have subdued him with zip-ties.
The man who took down Zeldin’s would-be assailant initially was named as AMVETS national director Joe Chenelly. AMVETS is a non-partisan veterans advocacy group.
Chenelly said that he spoke with Jakubonis and when he found out the suspect had served in Iraq, he vowed to get him help.
Chenelly told the Rochester First: ‘When he said he served in Iraq, I got down hands on my knees and said, “You know, we’re going to get through whatever you’ve done here tonight. You’re going to get better and focus on that. You can contact me after this thing is done”.’
He added: ‘I was told not to engage with him right now. I think it’s very important we obviously have a mental health crisis nationwide – not just with our veterans but we especially have it with our veterans.’
Zeldin, a staunch ally of ex-President Donald Trump, is the Republican nominee to replace current New York governor Kathy Hochul.
New York GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy said after the attack that current Gov. Kathy Hochul ‘fanned the flames of hate’ today by recently posting Zeldin’s schedule online and apparently encouraging her supporters to attend.
Zeldin appears during New York’s Republican gubernatorial debate at the studios of Spectrum News NY1 on June 20, 2022, in New York
Since 2015, Zeldin has represented New York’s first district in Congress, representing Long Island’s affluent Hamptons-area.
He has been an opponent of New York’s bail reform laws, eliminating cash bail for nonviolent and misdemeanor charges.
His campaign said in a statement on Thursday: ‘Congressman Zeldin, Alison Esposito and all members of Team Zeldin are safe following tonight’s attack. Far more must be done to make New York safe again. This is very much getting out of hand in this state.
The message continued: ‘Unfortunately, Congressman Zeldin is just the latest New Yorker whose life has been affected by the out of control crime and violence in New York. This needs to stop!’
The suspect being wrestled the ground by a group of Zeldin supporters
Following the attack, New York GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy blamed the current governor for the attack saying: ‘It’s not a coincidence that just hours earlier, Kathy Hochul fanned the flames of hate by directing her supporters to his rally schedule. This is unacceptable conduct for anyone, let alone a sitting governor.’
On her campaign website, Hochul’s team pointed out Zeldin’s event on July 21 telling her supporters: ‘RSVP to hear about Zeldin’s ‘Election Integrity Task Force,’ and his recent election fraud scandal in which his campaign photocopied over 11,000 duplicate signatures.’
A week before the attack, the congressman was taken off of the Independent Party’s ballot line in November’s gubernatorial election after more than 12,500 of the signatures on his application were found to have been duplicates of real signatures.
Following Thursday’s incident, Governor Hochul said: ‘Relieved to hear that Congressman Zeldin was not injured and that the suspect is in custody. I condemn this violent behavior in the strongest terms possible — it has no place in New York.’
According to his LinkedIn page, Joe Chenelly, the man who took down the attacker, is a candidate for the New York assembly in 2022
According to his LinkedIn page, the man who first took down the would-be attacker, Joe Chenelly, is a candidate for the New York state assembly in 2022.
Chenelly is a long time advocate for veterans and has worked as a political advisor for former United States Senator Jim Webb’s short-lived campaign for the presidency in 2016.
Following Thursday’s incident, his wife wrote on Facebook: ‘Joe Chenelly is a hero.’
New York City Councilwoman Joann Ariola quickly condemned the attack in a statement saying: ‘Attacks on political candidates, regardless of their viewpoints, are absolutely unacceptable.’
She continued: ‘This country was founded on the idea of freedom of speech. Political violence of this kind represents a dangerous shift away from the principles that this nation was built upon.’