After the Primary, Democrats Project Unity

Gershon’s former opponents toast him as they look to November
Perry Gershon, the Democratic Party’s nominee to represent New York’s First Congressional District, and East Hampton Town Councilwoman Sylvia Overby attended a rally for Mr. Gershon in Springs on Sunday. Durell Godfrey

Energized by a 75-percent increase in turnout over the 2016 primary election, more than 200 East Hampton Democrats held what they called a “unity” rally for Perry Gershon, the party’s nominee to challenge Representative Lee Zeldin in New York’s First Congressional District, at the Springs residence of John and Alice Tepper Marlin on Sunday. All of Mr. Gershon’s four opponents in the June 26 primary attended and pledged their support, as did Congresswoman Nita Lowey and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, both of New York; Assemblywoman Christine Pellegrino, who won an upset victory in New York’s Ninth District last year, Tim Bishop, who represented the district for 12 years, and members of the East Hampton Town Board.

“This has been a great week for me,” said Mr. Gershon, who won 35.5 percent of the vote in the five-way Democratic primary election. “But the work has barely started. We’ve got to win in November, or there’s no point.” 

Citing the increase in turnout over 2016, when Anna Throne-Holst, the former Southampton Town supervisor, defeated David Calone for the Democratic nomination before losing to Mr. Zeldin in the election, Mr. Gershon, who lives in East Hampton, predicted a “very winnable” race. “It’s hard to tell people to go vote on a Tuesday in late June when there’s nothing else on the ballot, and to get the turnout up that much is an accomplishment,” he said. “It’s an accomplishment for all the candidates, and it shows again that Zeldin is in trouble. And he knows it: The first thing Zeldin did when the winner of the primary was announced is come personal on me. That’s not what a confident guy does.” In a press release issued moments after Mr. Gershon’s primary win was apparent, Mr. Zeldin repeatedly referred to Mr. Gershon as “Park Avenue Perry,” accusing his opponent of buying his party’s nomination.

Mr. Zeldin will try to take him “down to the swamp,” Mr. Gershon said. “And I’m not going there. This has been and will remain a campaign about issues that people care about.” Democrats will turn out in the Nov. 6 election, he predicted, “when we talk about health care, how we’re not going to let the Republicans take away our health care coverage and take away coverage for pre-existing conditions.”

He and Ms. Lowey pointed out Mr. Zeldin’s 9-percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters and hammered the Republican incumbent on his co-sponsorship of the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which would require all states to recognize concealed carry permits granted by other states and allow permit holders to carry a concealed weapon in school zones in any state. “It’s time we said enough,” he said, “and Lee Zeldin is on the wrong side.” Of the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, he asked, “Who wants that in this state?” The National Rifle Association does, he answered, “and that’s Lee Zeldin’s lobby.”

A win in the First District is key to a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, Ms. Maloney told the crowd. “I am here with great pride to endorse Perry Gershon and to work with him” toward that majority, she said. “We all have to get out and help him get elected.”

Democrats have to pick up at least two seats in New York in order to retake the majority in the House of Representatives, Ms. Lowey said. Citing her own election to Congress in 1988 and last year’s election of George Latimer as Westchester County executive, in which he unseated the incumbent Republican in an election that was seen as a referendum on the president, Ms. Lowey, who represents the northern suburbs of New York City, said that Democrats have reason to be optimistic. “There were more groups out there than I ever could have imagined,” she said of activist groups that formed in the wake of President Trump’s election. “They would ring doorbells. They would call. They were everywhere.”

East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc introduced the four candidates who fell short of the nomination. “We had a very large field of candidates, and I think that’s representative of just how badly we want and need a change in Suffolk County representing us in Washington,” he said. “To have all the candidates here together to support the choice of the people, Perry Gershon, is outstanding, and it demonstrates that we all have to come together to make a change in Washington. We start here, and we do it now.” 

Mr. Gershon repeatedly pledged to deliver a positive message. “We’re going to stay out of the swamp, because that’s how you win,” he said. “It’s how you win in Brookhaven, it’s how you win in the Hamptons, that’s how you win on the North Fork, that’s how you win in Riverhead, and, believe it or not, we’re going to do well in Smithtown too.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will be involved in the campaign, he said. “We are going to get national attention, because you take back the House through New York 1,” he said, leading the assembled in a chant of “Flip the House!”

The race remains in the “Likely Republican” column of the Cook Political Report, an independent, nonpartisan newsletter that analyzes elections, campaigns, and political trends.