Perry Gershon is one of the 1st Congressional District’s newest voters, has never run for elected office or been involved in local issues, and is largely unknown.
Yet the former Manhattanite, 55, who registered to vote at his East Hampton seasonal home in June, is looking to take on two-term Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin next year. He has a year to persuade Suffolk Democrats to back him or he can wage a primary to wrest the nomination from a more local contender.
“Where one comes from is irrelevant or should be,” he said. “I’m the perfect guy to, because I’m a non-politician whose background is in business and creating jobs, which is the right appeal to beat Zeldin,” adding that Zeldin’s “ties to Donald Trump will be his undoing.”
Yet Gershon is the latest in a long line of import candidates in the last 50 years who, without success, have flirted with, or actually ran in, the perennial swing district, which includes the East End, all of Brookhaven and part of Smithtown.
The group includes former Gov. Nelson Rockefeller’s appointments secretary, Joseph Boyd, who lost to Democratic Rep. Otis Pike in 1972. Cosmetics scion Ron Lauder, one-time Austrian ambassador and part-time Wainscott resident, explored a local race in 1988, a year before losing a New York City mayoral primary to Rudy Giuliani. More recently, Randy Altschuler, millionaire founder of Office Tigers, which outsourced jobs to Asia, moved in to try to unseat former Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop, but lost in 2010 and 2012.
Gershon said he is phasing out his business and is campaigning full time, putting 4,000 miles on his Chevy Volt listening to potential constituents. He said he has already raised $302,000 although he has yet to file a campaign finance report, but has a goal to have $500,000 by the first report Oct. 15.
A Yale graduate, Gershon said he attended medical school but dropped out to open a sports bar in Manhattan called the Polo Grounds. He later got a business degree from the University of California at Berkeley, became involved in commercial mortgage finance with companies including Nomura and later Royal Bank of Scotland, and started his own private equity company with partners, providing financing to developers amid the 2008 fiscal meltdown.
While not involved in local politics, Gershon while in college worked on the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s unsuccessful 1980 presidential campaign and former Sen. Gary Hart’s 1984 bid.
Rich Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, called Gershon “a nice guy who’s working hard,” but added “he’s got a lot of convincing to do” to convince the local party committees’ progressive activists that he is the candidate to beat Zeldin.
Two leading contenders, Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) and term-limited Suffolk Legis. Kate Browning of Shirley, are expected to decide within the next two weeks whether they intend to run. Browning, a Working Families Party member, in June switched her enrollment to the Democratic Party, but the change does not take effect until after Election Day.
Former Suffolk Legis. Vivian Viloria Fisher already announced her candidacy and will launch her campaign Sunday at the Portuguese-American Center in Farmingville. She would not criticize Gershon, but noted, “he hasn’t been someone who has been part of this district, while I have played an intrinsic role in the district for many years. Many people, who go from Manhattan to the Hamptons, see the points west — Brookhaven, Smithtown and Islip — as the flyover zone.”