Businessman Perry Gershon of East Hampton, the only East End candidate in the race, won the Democratic primary on Tuesday to become the party’s challenger to Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin of Shirley in the First Congressional District of New York.
A veteran of 25 years as a commercial real estate lender in New York, Mr. Gershon declared victory shortly before 11 p.m. Tuesday with a press release declaring, “Our grassroots campaign is just getting started, tomorrow the hard work begins. It’s going to take everyone coming together to defeat Congressman Zeldin in November to put a check on President Trump’s reckless and divisive agenda that’s hurting Long Islanders.”
Congressman Zeldin’s campaign almost immediately went on the attack, branding Mr. Gershon “Park Avenue Perry” in a Wednesday morning press release congratulating him for “buying his way into a general election.”
“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,” the announcement read.
“Having just changed his residency into the district from Manhattan this past year,” the Zeldin campaign added, “he has more in common with radicals like Bill DeBlasio and Nancy Pelosi than the residents of our congressional district.”
Responding to a request for comment on the Zeldin attack, Mr. Gershon’s campaign manager Karl Bach said on Wednesday the candidate was trying to carve out family time for his wife Lisa’s birthday.
Mr. Gershon, who loaned his campaign $600,000 and far outspent the four other candidates, had 7,226 votes or 35.5 percent. Runner-up Kate Browning of Shirley, who was supported by the Suffolk County Democratic Committee, won 6,159 votes or 30.26 percent, according to Suffolk County Board of Elections unofficial results.
During the campaign, Ms. Browning, a native of Belfast who moved to the U.S. and used to drive a school bus for the William Floyd School District, said the committee favored her because her blue-collar roots and past election successes as a county legislator from the Mastic-Shirley area made her the most likely candidate to beat Mr. Zeldin in November.
Vivian Viloria-Fisher of East Setauket, who served 12 years on the Suffolk County Legislature like Ms. Browning, came in third with 3,314 votes or 16.28 percent followed by former New York City Council staffer David Pechefsky of Port Jefferson with 2,425 votes or 11.91 percent. Former Brookhaven Lab physicist Elaine Di Masi of Upton trailed with 1,207 votes or 5.93 percent.
Turnout was up more than 60 percent in Tuesday’s voting compared to the last time Democrats chose a nominee in the First Congressional District. Nevertheless, only 14 percent of the district’s 144,470 actively registered Democrats (as of April 1, 2018) participated.
Two years ago, when former Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst narrowly defeated David L. Calone for the Democratic nomination, 12,641 votes were cast compared to 20,351 cast on Tuesday, according to unofficial results. Mr. Zeldin went to breeze into a second two-year term, easily beating Ms. Throne-Holst in November 2016 with 58 percent of the vote.
A plurality of the district’s voters, 162,308, were actively registered Republicans and 128,547 are registered with no party affiliation. Some 24,790 were registered with the Independent Party. A majority in the district favored Barack Obama for president in 2008 and 2012. In 2016, a greater majority voted for Donald Trump.
Mr. Gershon raised far more and spent far more than the other Democratic candidates during the primary campaign. His receipts totaled more than $2.1 million. He spent $1.66 million and still had $450,161 on hand as of June 6, according to financial reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Kate Browning raised $493,851 and spent $381,364; David Pechefsky raised $276,451 and spent $192,765; Vivian Viloria-Fisher raised $256,831 and spent $205,641; and Elaine Di Masi raised $99,364 and spent $83,404.
During the same period, Mr. Zeldin outraised and outspent all the Democrats, taking in $2.775 million and spending more than $1.6 million. He had a balance on hand of $1.546 million as of June 6.
Through the primary campaign, Mr. Gershon, a 1984 Yale graduate, stressed his knowledge of business and budgets and focused on ousting Mr. Zeldin, who has been outspoken in his support for President Trump — except for the Trump tax cut bill, which Mr. Zeldin opposed as harmful to his constituents.
Mr. Gershon, a former campaign worker for Ted Kennedy and Gary Hart, declared in May at a League of Women Voters forum at Hampton Bays High School that he was running “because the country is under attack right now. Donald Trump in his election has really changed the landscape … He’s put [not only] the causes we believe in nationally and internationally in jeopardy, but the whole republic and the core that holds us together.”
“The Democrats must win this election to put a check on the president,” he said.
He cited as major issues “health care, protecting the environment, getting guns off the street, gun safety laws and jobs. We need an economic agenda and I can speak to all of those issues and coalesce us together to get elected as a Democrat in the fall.”
As a real estate lender, he said he knew how to bring “parties together as a conciliatory and figure out complex solutions to people problems as well as keep people employed and keep things going. I was a lender who foreclosed once in 25 years. So I found ways to make things work and that’s what we need in government. I’m going to find a way to work with the other party because if we don’t do that, this country is doomed.”