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Congressman Lee Zeldin speaks out after attempted assault on stage at campaign rally near Rochester

Lee Zeldin increases security after attempted stabbing in Rochester
Lee Zeldin increases security after attempted stabbing in Rochester 02:32

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Republian gubernatorial candidate Rep. Lee Zeldin has increased security on the campaign trail after a man attempted to assault him at a Rochester campaign event. 

CBS2's political reporter Marcia Kramer says the assailant was released without bail, handing Zeldin a gold-plated issue to attack Gov. Kathy Hochul with. 

Unbowed, unhurt and loaded for bear, Zeldin was back on the campaign trail, trying to spin an unexpected attack by an apparently unhinged man into political gold, slamming Hochul for being soft on crime and supporting cashless bail. 

"What we need in government is bold leadership," Zeldin said. "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." 

Zeldin demanded the governor support a repeal of cashless bail and allow judges to consider dangerousness in keeping people behind bars after a man, identified by police as David Jakubonis, 43, was seen trying to swing a sharp instrument at the congressman's neck at a Rochester rally Thursday. The instrument looks like a brass cat head, with two pointed ears. 

The sheriff's office said he was charged with attempted assault in the second degree and was released without bail. 

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Posted by Lee Zeldin on Friday, July 22, 2022

"What I propose is that we repeal cashless bail, that judges are given discretion to weigh dangerousness and flight risk, and past criminal record and seriousness of the offense," Zeldin said. 

Zeldin, accompanied by his running mate, former NYPD Inspector Alison Esposito, and Andrew Giuliani, tartly pointed out that Mayor Eric Adams has also sought similar bail law changes. 

Political pundits from both parties say the incident provided an unexpected boost to Zeldin's campaign to unseat Hochul. 

"It resonates with voters because it's the same, it could happen to anyone, you know," said political consultant Jessica Proud. "As everyday New Yorkers are getting on the subway or going about their daily lives, they are in fear right now. It's the number one issue that they're concerned about, so what happened to Lee Zeldin could happen to anybody." 

"If we have more incidents and Zeldin gets attacked again, for example, or there are more incidents on the street that are just outrageous, Zeldin is going to start to move the numbers," said political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. "Out of tragedy comes opportunity, and he's got a doubleheader here." 

Hochul was in Santa Monica at a Democratic governor's retreat. She condemned the attack on Twitter, saying "it has no place in New York." 

According to the sheriff's office, Jakubonis told Zeldin "You're done," then Zeldin said he grabbed his attacker's wrist before he got too close. 

Zeldin's office said he had private security at the event. But still, it appears the man was able to easily jump on stage during the intimate rally, as witnesses say Zeldin was making a speech about bail reform. 

"Politicians love to mingle with the crowd. They love to kiss babies. They love to shake hands. They love to engage voters on a one-to-one basis," said Alain Sanders, a political science professor at Saint Peter's University. 

Sanders says smaller rallies help sway voters, but open up candidates to certain safety concerns. 

"Engaging is the art of politics, that's what it's all about, but while engaging, you're open to threats and violent people," Sanders said. 

One photo shows the suspect pinned down. We are told he is an Army veteran who was deployed to Iraq in 2009 as a medical laboratory technician. 

WROC, the CBS affiliate in Rochester, reported the man was allegedly under the influence of alcohol.

"I condemn the attack on Congressman Zeldin in the strongest terms," President Biden said in a statement sent by the White House. "As I've said before, violence has absolutely no place in our society or our politics. I am especially grateful for the courage of those who immediately intervened, and that he is unharmed and was able to continue his speech. I also want to thank the law enforcement officers who quickly took action and are investigating this attack that defies our fundamental democratic values."

A spokesperson for Zeldin's office said the congressman had a minor scrape from the incident. He also said Zeldin had not received any specific threats recently. 

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