G.O.P. Assails N.Y. Bail Laws After Suspect in Zeldin Attack Is Released

An attempted assault on Representative Lee Zeldin, a Republican candidate for governor of New York, inflamed a fierce debate over the state’s public safety laws on Friday, hours after a man accused of charging the candidate with a pointed weapon was released without bail.

Mr. Zeldin has long made public safety a centerpiece of his campaign against Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat. But he and his allies argued on Friday that the incident viscerally drove home the need to increase policing and tighten New York’s bail laws to make it easier for judges to hold people charged with certain crimes.

“Only in Kathy Hochul’s New York could a maniac violently attack a candidate for Governor and then be released without bail,” Nick Langworthy, the New York Republican Party chairman, wrote on Twitter. “This is what happens when you destroy the criminal justice system.”

The incident took place Thursday night outside a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall near Rochester, where Mr. Zeldin was holding the first in a series of weekend campaign stops. A man, who was later identified by the police as David G. Jakubonis, slowly approached him onstage.

Video footage of the incident showed Mr. Jakubonis wielding a pointed self-defense tool shaped like the face of a cartoon cat as he lunged at Mr. Zeldin. Mr. Jakubonis can be heard on video repeatedly saying, “You’re done.”

Mr. Zeldin, a four-term congressman from Long Island and Army reservist, was not injured, as others rushed the stage and took the man to the ground.

Mr. Jakubonis, 43, of Fairport, N.Y., was charged with attempted assault in the second degree, according to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, and released on his own recognizance. Because the crime was attempted, it is categorized as a nonviolent felony. Since 2020, under New York law, judges have been barred from setting bail on that charge; previously, prosecutors could have requested that Mr. Jakubonis be held on bail.

There were still many unanswered questions on Friday, including about what might have motivated Mr. Jakubonis, an Army veteran, to target Mr. Zeldin.

Mr. Zeldin was scheduled to continue his planned campaign bus tour around the state and deliver remarks about the incident Friday morning. In a statement late Thursday, Mr. Zeldin said, “I’m as resolute as ever to do my part to make New York safe again.”

But Republicans wasted little time claiming that the incident — and Mr. Jakubonis’s release — demonstrated the failure of the bail law enacted by Democrats in recent years.

“It is terrible public policy that in the State of New York, you can try to stab a sitting member of Congress, or anyone else for that matter, and be back out on the street not even six hours later,” said Katie Vincentz, a spokeswoman for Mr. Zeldin.“There is not enough accountability for people when they commit crimes, and this is just one of the many examples we hear all about in New York every single day.”

The bail law, which initially went into effect in January 2020 and has been amended twice since then, has been fiercely criticized by Republicans and some Democrats, who have linked it to rises in certain categories of crime. Researchers say and data shows that there is no evidence that the law is responsible for those rises.

The law has allowed thousands of people to go free, instead of being held in jail after being unable to post bail on relatively minor crimes. Rearrest rates — which could indicate whether the law had contributed to crime rates — have stayed steady. But as certain crimes have become more commonplace, the overall number of those charged, released and then rearrested on a separate crime has risen, giving opponents of the statute a plethora of examples with which to attack it.

Ms. Hochul, who is traveling in California, condemned the incident Thursday night.

Kitty Bennett contributed research.

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