Making a Case for Perry Gershon

‘We need to’ give them ‘a reason to vote for a Democrat,’ Alec Baldwin said.
Loida Lewis, second from right, hosted a fund-raiser for Perry Gershon, center, the Democratic candidate for Congress from East Hampton. Among those on hand were, from left, Alec Baldwin, Alice Tepper Marlin, and Representative Carolyn Maloney. Christopher Walsh

Democrats on the South Fork will have to “fight in a way that we’ve never been asked to before” to elect Perry Gershon, the party’s candidate to represent New York’s First Congressional District, the actor Alec Baldwin told those assembled at a fund-raiser on Sunday at the East Hampton residence of Loida Lewis. 

While ample criticism was aimed at Representative Lee Zeldin, the Republican incumbent who is seeking a third term, President Trump was the object of greater scorn among those who spoke at the gathering, including Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York’s 12th District, in New York City. 

“What choice do we have but to get ready?” Mr. Baldwin asked, imploring the gathering to donate to Mr. Gershon’s campaign. Until political campaigns are publicly financed, “we have to muscle up,” he said, “because the other side of the aisle isn’t going to reach across to us on anything.” 

Mr. Baldwin, who lives in Amagansett, decried the “extreme partisanship” dividing the major political parties, but said that Republican support for President Trump is soft, with many “reluctant Republicans” in the district. “Not all of them, but many are ‘Give me a reason to vote for a Democrat and I will,’ ” he said. “That’s what we need to do.” 

“We are really here because we want a check on Mr. Trump,” Ms. Maloney said. There is nothing more important, she told the assembled, than electing a Democratic majority “that can be a wall, a check on the president and the Republican Party, which now controls the executive, the Senate, and the House.” 

Mr. Gershon, who lives in East Hampton, told the gathering that his campaign is about unity, that Americans and Long Islanders are tired of “the poisonous rhetoric that’s going on” at the national level. Mr. Zeldin, he said, “is a major part of it.” 

He is seeking office to counter Mr. Trump, Mr. Gershon said. “But beating Lee Zeldin is about much more than just fighting Trumpism. It’s about representing the people of New York 1, and trying to make people’s lives better.” 

That, he said, means protecting the environment, ensuring universal health care, and building a green energy economy in the district. Wind turbines should be manufactured here, he said, as part of an effort to “change the whole wage scale back to what we used to be: a pro-labor, labor-based, union, manufacturing economy. That’s a vision I’m going to talk about throughout Brookhaven, and throughout New York 1. And that’s how we’re going to get people to the polls.” 

The incumbent congressman is an extremist, Mr. Gershon said, evidenced by 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. Should it become law, it would “take down the New York State SAFE Act,” he said, referring to the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013, which requires universal background checks on gun purchases, increases penalties for people who use illegal guns, and mandates life in prison without parole for anyone who murders a first responder. Mr. Zeldin, he said, is beholden to the National Rifle Association. 

“I literally had the Police Department of the City of New York call me and say, ‘Kill this bill if there’s any way you can,’ ” Ms. Maloney said. “Every police department, every law enforcement in the country is opposed to this really ill-advised law.”

“As long as we’ve got people talking about these issues, there’s no way Zeldin gets re-elected,” Mr. Gershon said, predicting that his opponent is “going to try to change the dialogue to make it about anything other than the issues.” 

Mr. Baldwin said he is struck by “how people have been seduced by the Republicans into voting against their own interests.” Crafting comprehensive, enduring policy that would help the most people is difficult, he said; Republican legislators “don’t even bother.” Referring to the separation of undocumented children and parents caught crossing the border, he said that the Republican response is “Who cares?” “These are all shortcuts which wind up having a lot of collateral damage in our society,” he said. 

No one, he said, “envisioned the threat that Donald Trump brought of destroying everything that [President] Obama created,” but “now we’re energized again, and that middle group of people who voted for Obama and then voted for Trump are going to vote Democratic again. As long as we have a good quality, unifying message, we will get those voters. That’s the key.”

Despite Ms. Maloney’s pleas, Mr. Baldwin did not perform an impersonation of Mr. Trump, as he has regularly done on “Saturday Night Live.” “Haven’t you all had enough of it?” he asked, to a chorus of “No!” 

Nonetheless, Ms. Maloney said of Mr. Gershon, “I’m on his team. We need him there fighting for us.” 

As she left the gathering, she and Mr. Gershon spoke once more. “Congressman,” she said, “I’m looking forward to working with you.”