By Nicolas Pennisi and Danielle Tomlinson
That’s the distance Perry Gershon traveled in his blue Chevrolet Volt since his campaign for New York’s first congressional district gained momentum a year ago. The first-time political candidate’s mission is to knock on as many doors and meet as many people as he can. The Democratic candidate will challenge incumbent Republican Lee Zeldin, whose been in office since 2014, during midterm elections on Nov. 6.
“I think people are learning my name,” Gershon said. “It’s just a matter of time.”
Often sporting a blue and orange Mets baseball cap with a matching “Vote for Perry” button of the same color scheme, Gershon travels around Long Island to speak to anyone and everyone–from college students to strangers in parking lots. Gershon gained his large following one handshake at a time.
The grassroots campaign raised over $1.5 million from more than 41,000 individual donors. Gershon pledged to not accept money from corporate PACs.
He prides himself on not being a “career politician.” Gershon worked 25 years in the commercial real estate business. He decided to run for office after Donald Trump was elected president of the Unites States in 2016, an event which he cites as his call to action.
His opponent, Zeldin, is running for a third term, since being elected Congressman of NY-01 in 2014. Zeldin votes in line with President Trump, who recently endorsed him on Twitter, 86 percent of the time. In Gershon’s opinion, being a political outsider could be his biggest hurdle.
“Getting people to respect me [is a struggle,]” Gershon, who won the five-way Democratic primary this past June, said. “Nobody knew me, so I had to build name recognition.”
He has a three-pronged plan of action if he wins the vote.
First, he wants to create “affordable health insurance, even for those with a pre-existing condition.” Second, he wants to pass “common sense gun safety rules.” Gershon was recently endorsed by Giffords, a gun safety organization founded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Third, he wants to improve our infrastructure by investing in the Long Island Rail Road – buying new trains, building new tracks and upgrading stations.
His campaign has offices in East Setauket, Farmingville, Riverhead and Southampton, with more than 500 volunteers, ranging from teenagers to the elderly. The Setauket headquarters is nestled on the corner of Nicholls road and route 25A, just a hair’s breadth away from Stony Brook University.
“Working with Perry is great because he’s very receptive to people,” Cecelia Masselli, a volunteer for his campaign, said. The 20-year-old loves that Gershon “cares about his constituents’” opinions.
On a daily basis, volunteers will phone bank, canvass, and distribute lawn signs, while also taking the time to write individualized postcards to people who have either showed support for Gershon, or attended one of his events. More than 30,000 postcards were written and 67,000 phone calls were made over the last year.
“Obviously not every postcard can be written by Perry,” David Mayer, Gershon’s Political Advisor, who previously worked for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016, said. “But they’re written by people who care about Perry.”
His family and friends in East Hampton, where he lives with his wife and two sons, are a huge support unit. His son Logan even decided to take a semester’s leave of absence from Cornell to work full-time on his campaign and act as the Regional Field Coordinator for the east end of the district.
“I have always known my dad to be a hard worker,” Logan said about his father. “But I have never seen him work as hard as he is now, crisscrossing the district, trying to talk to as many voters as he can to win the election.”
Mount Sinai resident Frank Terrano, 72, is proud to display his “Perry Gershon for Congress” sign on his front lawn. Despite backlash from Zeldin supporters in his neighborhood, Terrano insists on showing his support.
“Well it lets them know that there are a lot of Gershon supporters here,” Terrano said. “It’s not all Zeldin like you’d think.”