Gruber Tossed From Independence Party Line in East Hampton Town Board Race

David Gruber at a recent East Hampton Town Board meeting.

A New York State Supreme Court judge on Friday tossed out the town board candidate petition filed by the East Hampton Independence Party on behalf of David Gruber.

According to Amos Goodman, chairman of the East Hampton Republican Committee, signatures were examined and some were “invalidated” by New York State Supreme Court Judge Carol MacKenzie, who went through the signatures one by one until Mr. Gruber’s petition fell below the number of signatures required to qualify as a legitimate petition. Mr. Goodman said by phone Friday that while he could have pressed additional allegations involving forgery and other wrongdoing, the committee decided against moving forward.

“We decided to not make trouble for people,” he said. “All I ever wanted was the line free. I’m not really interested in collecting scalps. This has already been acrimonious enough.”

The challenge was filed on behalf of Republican candidate Manny Vilar, who ran an unsuccessful campaign in November for East Hampton Town Supervisor, by Mr. Goodman. The suit alleged that falsified signatures appeared on petitions witnessed by former East Hampton Town Board member Pat Mansir, vice chair of the town’s Independence Party, and Elaine Jones, chair of the party.

In a statement issued Sunday, Mr. Gruber alleges the challenge was only filed by Mr. Goodman after he declined to make a “bargain” with the Republican committee chair to get what is called a Wilson-Pakula certificate for Mr. Vilar from Suffolk County Independence Party chair Frank McKay. That certificate, which Mr. Gruber obtained, would have allowed Mr. Vilar to run a primary for the Independence Party line despite not being a member of that party.

“My response to Goodman was two-fold: first, that I am not an Independence Party member and would not presume to interfere in the affair of that party and, second, that if there were not enough valid signatures for me to be on the ballot, then I do not legally belong there and would not enter into some bargain to remain on the ballot in that case,” said Mr. Gruber. “I told him that, if he believed the Independence Party petition not to be valid, he should follow the procedure provided in the Election Law.”

Mr. Gruber said he was surprised to learn he legally had to be named in the challenge.

“By appearing by counsel in the proceeding, I ensured only that the matter would be decided not by Amos Goodman and the Republican party, but by a judge, to which the Independence Party members who did sign the petition were entitled,” he said. “I did not make a defense of the petition. That would have been for the Independence Party to do as I know none of the facts of the matter.”

“Goodman has made accusations of fraud against various people because some of the signatures on the Independence Party [petitions] were not valid,” added Mr. Gruber, noting an investigation by reporter Michael Wright that questioned the validity of at least 15 signatures on Mr. Goodman’s own petition for Mr. Vilar.

“Goodman attributes these errors to ‘sloppiness’ on his part,” said Mr. Gruber. “I think the people whom Goodman accuses deserve the same benefit of the doubt that he gives himself. If errors were made by the Independence Party members who carried petitions, failing properly to identify signers, I do not accept Goodman’s accusations that these were intentional. Given Goodman’s own bad petitions, with exactly the same types of mistakes, he should not be restrained in pointing fingers at anyone else.”

On Friday, Ms. Jones, chair of the local Independence Party, said there had been a mix-up in court that contributed to the invalidation of Mr. Gruber as an Independence Party candidate. According to Ms. Jones, Pat Mansir, the party’s vice chair, could not make the court date but her attorney did not communicate that to the judge. Additionally, Ms. Jones said, there were no handwriting experts present at the proceedings.

“I’m very disturbed by the whole thing,” she said. “It shouldn’t have been decided.”

She later continued, “I’m disappointed for Mr. Gruber. I will vote for him if he wins in the Democratic primary.”

“I am of course disappointed to lose the Independence Party line in November, but I remain grateful to the Independence Party and Elaine Jones for their support and faith in me,” said Mr. Gruber in Sunday’s statement. “I hope that Independence Party members will come out to vote in November and have the opportunity to vote for me on the Democratic Party line.”

“As I have explained before, I had no involvement in the signature gathering by the Independence Party,” he continued. “My only role was to file the legally required acceptance of the nomination after its nominating petition was filed.”

Mr. Gruber is not guaranteed a line on the November ballot. A September 13 primary will see Mr. Gruber face off against David Lys for the chance to run on the Democratic Party line in November. Mr. Lys has the support of the local Democratic Committee. A splinter group, the East Hampton Reform Democrats, has backed Mr. Gruber. Mr. Lys announced this week he has created the East Hampton Unity Party and will appear on that line in November regardless of the primary.