Democratic Primary: For David Lys, Public Campaigns Are Nothing New

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David Lys speaking during a debate hosted by the East Hampton Group for Good Government at the East Hampton Emergency Services headquarters on Cedar Street on Tuesday. Michael Heller photo

Born at Southampton Hospital, David Lys, 42, grew up on Newtown Lane in East Hampton with an older sister, Diana. His father Hakim, who fled Indonesia’s dictatorial Sukarno regime in 1962, graduated from Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania and earned his MBA at New York University. He met his future wife, Joyce, in New York and moved east with her to take a job as one of the first managers of the Gertz department store in East Hampton.

Mr. Lys’s parents were married in 1969 at the Seaspray Inn, now as extinct as the Gertz. Joyce and Hakim ran a clothing store called Fleur de Lys. His mother later was a home economics teacher in the Southampton and East Hampton school districts for 29 years. The couple later “developed a bunch of properties with friends and investors,” Mr. Lys said of his parents.

On his father’s advice, Mr. Lys attended Penn State. Always athletic and interested in fitness, he studied kinesiology — human movement — and, through his fraternity, earned a reputation as a phenomenal fund-raiser for the Four Diamond Fund, a charity that supports childhood cancer treatment and research at Penn State’s Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. In an awful twist, David himself was diagnosed with cancer at age 21 and received treatment there, including a hip replacement that five years ago had to be redone. He remains cancer free and is a 20-year survivor.

“You had to be a Pennsylvania resident and under 21 to get funded” for treatment at the hospital, he recalled. “I was neither. I was already 21, even though I was diagnosed with a pediatric cancer, Ewing sarcoma, and also I was from New York. But since I had raised so much money” — $150,000 a year — “they decided to cover me, anything that my mom’s insurance didn’t cover.” He endured 160 days of chemotherapy in one year and “more surgeries than anyone should ever have.”

During his treatment in the late 1990s, “I would speak to organizations and groups, from a dozen to a couple of thousand, to try to motivate them … It took my mind away from my illness and pain,” he said.

After graduating, “I needed to get out and do something different,” he said, so he went to Europe, where he had an internship and a job at a cardiac rehab center and a health club. He met his future wife, Rachel, an American, at the University of Brighton in England, where she was studying. Their oldest daughter, 11, is named Brighton. There’s also Brynley, 9; Brie, 6; and Brooke, 16 months.

“After, I came home to East Hampton, tried to make a go at it, and luckily I was successful at doing it,” he said. Rachel followed after completing her studies. A physical therapist with a doctorate, she and he now own and operate East Hampton Physical Therapy in downtown Montauk. Their company, Weekend Warriors Tours and Outfitters, offers kayak, hiking, stand-up paddleboarding and biking tours all over the South Fork. They also own a commercial property in Amagansett with four cottages that “we rent affordably,” he said.

Mr. Lys dove into civic life here, helping to found Citizens for Access Rights (CfAR), prompted by homeowner associations’ attempts to keep the public from reaching the ocean beach in Napeague, in 2009. He was a founding member of Paddlers for Humanity, which has raised more than $1 million for local children’s charities. He led the fund-raising campaign and the restoration of the Amagansett Life-Saving Station after the Carmichael family donated it to the town. “I was a little bit of a bull in a China shop,” he said, “but I was able to unify the committee” to guide it through a challenging task and make it “the best life-saving station museum in the world.” He remains president of the Board of Trustees of the Amagansett Life-Saving Station.

“I put my community before anything,” he said, quickly correcting himself: “And my family. My family always assisted me in this. My kids are very involved. They like it. To be honest, I don’t need to waste time. My goal is to keep this community as tangible and as special as it was for me.”

The Town Board named Mr. Lys to the Zoning Board of Appeals in 2013. “It infused me with a knowledge of land use in the Town of East Hampton. It gave me a reason to give back to the town and get very involved in government and the process.”

Always respectful of his father and careful to take his father’s advice, he said he checked the box to register as a Republican when he got his first driver’s license and never thought any more about it until the Democratic Committee tapped him to fill Peter Van Scoyoc’s seat as a councilman on the Town Board. He changed his registration to Democratic in January.

He had been asked to run for the board by Democrats and Republicans over the years, he said. When asked to accept an appointment to fill an empty seat, however, he saw it as his town asking him for help “and I had a real difficult time saying no to my hometown.”

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