Gruber Plans to Force Democratic Primary to Challenge Lys

East Hampton Town Hall.

David Gruber, an East Hampton attorney and former town Democratic Party Committee chairman, announced this week he will try to force a September primary for the party’s nomination for councilman in November’s town board race.

In early June, the Democratic Party Committee voted to nominate Councilman David Lys over Mr. Gruber. Mr. Lys, an East Hampton native and local business owner, was appointed by the town board in January to fill the seat left vacant with the election of Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc to the position of supervisor.

On Tuesday, Mr. Gruber said he was running for two reasons: he believes in competitive elections as being an important part of the Democratic process; and he and a caucus of local Democrats feel the local party and the town board are leaning toward a more conservative ideology than his caucus prefers on some issues. That caucus is called the East Hampton Reform Democrats.

“I want Democratic leaders to have to face the voters and, to me, everything has been done to prevent that outcome,” said Mr. Gruber on Tuesday. “I am not willing to see an appointed, crowned leadership in East Hampton.”

“I think there is a distinct right-leaning drift going on in the Democratic Party and this is reflected in national trends,” continued Mr. Gruber. “There are Democrats who believe the way to win elections now is to move towards the Republican Party. Democrats have been losing for 30 years pursuing that strategy but the leadership appears entrenched despite that not working out.”

As an example, Mr. Gruber was critical of the current town board for not demanding an environmental analysis of the Deepwater Wind project — a wind turbine field proposed 36 miles southeast of Montauk — before it considered where that project’s cable should land. “They have excuses, but I don’t buy those excuses,” he said. “To me, that is an abandonment of what Democrats have stood for for decades.”

He also called for more action on issues like coastal erosion in Montauk and a more aggressive, planned, effort at increasing affordable housing stock in the town.

To run in a primary, Mr. Gruber and Mr. Lys will both need to collect just under 400 signatures from registered Democrats and file them with the Suffolk County Board of Elections by July 12. This week, both candidates said they felt confident they would be able to do so. Mr. Lys is also awaiting an official endorsement from Suffolk County Democratic Party Chairman Rich Schaffer. Mr. Lys changed his Republican affiliation to Democrat in January but still will technically be a registered Republican until after November’s election. To prevent ballot-stuffing schemes, state election law imposes a delay before any change in a voter’s affiliation takes effect until after the next general election.

On Wednesday, Mr. Lys said he had expected a primary challenge and believed his commitment to the community would lead to his nomination.

“My values and the Democratic values of the current town board run parallel to those of the Democratic Committee,” he said. “We are focused on protecting our environment, improving our water quality, protecting our working families and trying to find more affordable housing for our residents.”

“My priority is to protect my hometown, my birthplace, the place my children were born,” said Mr. Lys. “My priority is to protect the environment and the quality of life we come to expect here, to protect public access to our beaches and local water bodies, to protect our children in their schools and increase recreational activities for everyone. We need to provide more affordable housing and look at smart growth. We have a lot of smart people living here and we need to find ways to develop an economy that can match those minds with well-paying jobs.”