Clock Runs Out for East Hampton GOP to Nominate Gruber for Supervisor

David Gruber at the Republican Party screening last week in East Hampton. Christine Sampson photo.

David Gruber, a longtime East Hampton Town Democratic Committee strategist who flipped the script on local politics last week when he screened with the East Hampton Republican Committee for the town supervisor’s seat, earned the GOP committee’s endorsement — but not the necessary paperwork for his nomination to proceed as a registered Democrat on the Republican line.

“Chairman Manny Vilar has spoken very highly of him to me,” Jesse Garcia, who last week was elected chairman of the Suffolk County Republican Committee, said on Tuesday afternoon. “…They brought him forward to the Republican Committee. Unfortunately, there was a gap in leadership over the last 30 days. We were moving to honor the request of the East Hampton Republican Committee. The clock just ran out on us.”

Mr. Garcia explained the county GOP committee could not quickly enough secure the approval of a Wilson-Pakula certificate, which is needed for a candidate registered in one party to appear on the ballot line of another party.

Mr. Gruber, who sought the supervisor’s nomination at an April 10 screening session after Richard Myers declined the East Hampton GOP’s nomination earlier in the week, said Tuesday the turn of events is “unexpected but in a way unsurprising.”

While he failed to gain access to the official Republican Party ballot line in East Hampton, Mr. Gruber will appear on the supervisor’s ticket in November as an Independence Party candidate. He will face incumbent supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, a Democrat who also filed a petition on the Working Families Party line.

Mr. Gruber said he was “delighted” to earn the GOP’s support last week.

“I thought it went very well,” he said. “They were tough and understandably skeptical, and I welcomed that.”

The East Hampton GOP will still actively campaign for Mr. Gruber, according to party chairman Manny Vilar.

“It was just a time compression problem,” Mr. Vilar said Tuesday. “There just wasn’t enough time to get through the works. All our candidates will be on the Independence and Conservative party lines, so it’s not like we don’t have anybody on the ballot.”

In the 2018 special election for a town board seat, Mr. Gruber was denied the opportunity to run on the Independence Party line after the East Hampton Town Republican Committee successfully sought to have his Independence Party petition invalidated in court. Mr. Gruber ultimately lost a Democratic primary to Councilman David Lys. Mr. Gruber, who has also run unsuccessfully for town supervisor, helped elect Democratic candidates by diving into the inner workings of the party committee for many years.

During last Wednesday’s GOP screening session, Mr. Gruber told the Republican committee members he wanted to disrupt the “monster, this Democratic machine monopoly” that he said he helped create.

“I have worked hard for many years trying to elect Democrats for this town and was pretty successful, but when I look back at the results of those efforts it’s beyond disappointing to me,” he said. “I’ve devoted a lot of time and energy trying to bring good government to East Hampton and I’m not giving up.”

His pitch to the GOP committee — about 15 members were in attendance that night — could be considered symbolic of a party trying to rebuild itself following a couple of recent sweeps in town elections and legal troubles for former party chairman Amos Goodman, who has since stepped down from that post.

Reg Cornelia, a former East Hampton GOP chairman, said last Wednesday the committee had a “dilemma” — “take a seriously flawed candidate or take no candidate at all.”

Before Mr. Gruber spoke, Kyle Ballou, the committee’s secretary, told the members, “There are more ‘blanks’ now than Republicans in East Hampton.” He pointed out of the GOP’s 39 election district seats, only 31 are filled.

“And that is a loose number. You see how many people are here tonight,” Mr. Ballou said.

The issue affecting Mr. Gruber’s bid for the GOP supervisor nomination also impacted the Republican committee’s other candidates on what it has called a “fusion” ticket. Among them are Bonnie Brady, a Democrat, and Betsy Bambrick, who has no party affiliation, who have filed petitions to run in the town board race against Mr. Lys and Sylvia Overby, both incumbent Democrats who have also filed Working Families petitions. Two of the East Hampton GOP’s trustee candidates, Rona Klopman, a Reform Democrat, and Rick Drew, a Democrat, are also impacted. While those candidates are unable to run officially on the Republican line, they have filed petitions to run on other party lines.

“Though disappointed, the East Hampton Town Republican Committee is not deterred in its efforts to reach across party lines so that East Hampton Town voters have the broadest choice in selecting those who wish to serve our community first,” the committee said in a statement released Tuesday. “…The [committee] fully supports the assembled fusion ticket and has worked diligently on and pledges to support each candidate on that assembled fusion ticket, whether they appear on the Republican line or not.”