A Democratic congressional candidate questioned whether securing medical supplies vital to combating the coronavirus was "worth" working with President Donald Trump.
Perry Gershon, a Long Island businessman challenging GOP incumbent Rep. Lee Zeldin (N.Y.), acknowledged that the Republican has successfully obtained personal protective equipment (PPE) for his district during a virtual town hall in April. But Gershon questioned whether obtaining the life-saving equipment was "worth" working with Trump, saying Zeldin is "essentially bowing down" to the president.
"I think sincerely Zeldin has helped bring PPE here," Gershon said after a supporter asked if the equipment obtained by Zeldin was "actually being distributed."
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"But I ask the question, is it worth essentially bowing down to Donald Trump and being part of his society where he rewards the people who say good things about him and he penalizes the people who don't?"
Gershon, a former commercial real estate lender, is again running to unseat Zeldin after losing to the Republican by 6 points in 2018. Trump won the district by 12 points in 2016, but national Democrats see the tighter midterm margins as evidence that the president has lost support in the New York suburbs. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released a digital ad in January tying Zeldin to Trump after the president suggested he would consider cutting entitlement programs. Gershon took the strategy a step further in April when he attempted to deflect Zeldin's bipartisan coronavirus work and link it to Trump.
Zeldin in late April touted the securing of more than 1.2 million pieces of PPE for his New York district. He partnered with Democratic Suffolk County executive Steve Bellone in the effort, stressing the need to "work together in a nonpartisan way to deliver the PPE Long Island needs." Bellone praised Zeldin for his help after local officials ran out of key medical supplies earlier in the month. Suffolk County is fourth in the state in both coronavirus cases and deaths, according to state data.
"Congressman Zeldin has worked with the White House and secured a commitment that they will make sure Suffolk County has what we need in the next 30 days as we go through this crisis," Bellone said during an April conference call. "Knowing that Rep. Zeldin has that commitment from the White House, that is a significant thing for the people of Suffolk County."
Gershon, who did not respond to a request for comment, acknowledged Bellone's praise of Zeldin during his April virtual town hall.
"From what I can tell, [the PPE] is being distributed. Zeldin was tweeting this morning pictures of trucks being unloaded, and Steve Bellone has thanked Zeldin for his efforts," he said.
Gershon went on to say that Zeldin "perhaps has to" appeal to the White House to obtain the equipment, calling the Trump administration a "dictatorship."
"We should be getting enough PPE so everyone gets it and you don't have to beg the president and thank him as if he's doling it out. That's what's wrong with what's going on right now, and Zeldin is being part of it," he said. "Perhaps he has to because that's how Trump is giving PPE out…. Donald Trump should be working for all Americans, not working for the dictatorship of Donald Trump."
The Zeldin campaign told the Washington Free Beacon that Gershon's comments are "alarming," given the heavy toll that the virus has had on first responders in the region.
"For someone to say that they would let politics get in the way of securing the masks, gloves, and other essential items that they need to fight this crisis is beyond alarming," a spokesman said in an email. "This is the time to put partisan politics aside, and Congressman Zeldin is willing to work with anyone to deliver the resources Long Island needs."
Gershon in 2018 said he decided to challenge Zeldin because he saw similarities between Trump and Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler after visiting the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., two years earlier.
"I was struck then by the parallels between the rise of Donald Trump today and the rise of Hitler back then," he said. "And I just said to myself that we have to stand up and make sure this doesn't happen in America."
Gershon is one of four Democrats running to unseat Zeldin. He is the primary's second-leading fundraiser, taking in $1 million as of March 31. He spent $2 million of his own money on his failed congressional bid in 2018. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates the race as "likely Republican," indicating that it is "not considered competitive" but has the potential to tighten.