New Court Date Set for Gruber Petition Challenge

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David Gruber at a recent East Hampton Town Board meeting.

New York State Supreme Court Justice Carol MacKenzie set Friday, August 24 for another hearing on a lawsuit alleging that signatures were forged on David Gruber’s petition to become the Independence Party candidate for East Hampton Town Board in the upcoming November election.

East Hampton Republican Committee Chairman Amos Goodman said Monday that witnesses ordered to appear in support of Mr. Gruber’s petition for the Independence Party line failed to appear at an August 16 hearing in Central Islip, prompting the judge to set the new date.

The suit alleging fraud was filed by Republican candidate Manny Vilar and Independence Party member Gerard Larsen. Mr. Vilar and Mr. Larsen ran unsuccessful campaigns for supervisor and for a seat on the town board, respectively, last November.

“Nobody from the [Independence] Party or any witnesses appeared,” Mr. Goodman said, “so the judge ordered Gruber and his attorney to produce witnesses on Friday, August 24,” he said, asserting that the judge warned she would take a “negative inference” against Mr. Gruber’s case from a second failure to appear.

The suit alleges 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.

Ms. Jones said on Monday she did not appear because she was at Stony Brook University Hospital on August 16 undergoing a heart procedure and that Ms. Mansir had “a doctor’s note” to explain her absence. Ms. Jones said she will be at the August 24 hearing “with bells on” and so will Ms. Mansir.

Mr. Gruber confirmed by text that a new hearing date was set for August 24.

Meanwhile, the website 27East.com reported on Tuesday that more than a dozen people whose signatures appear on a petition circulated by Mr. Goodman to support Mr. Vilar’s candidacy on the Republican line denied they had ever signed the documents.

After knocking on the doors of 18 people from East Hampton, Springs and Wainscott whose signatures are purported to appear on the petitions, reporter Michael Wright found 15 who said the signatures were not theirs, according to his story.

Contacted for comment on Wednesday, Mr. Goodman lashed out at the Independence Party.  “I think it’s rather rich that the Independence Party is caught with its pants down and their explanation goes from ‘we did nothing wrong’ to ‘he did it too.’”

He said the 27East.com story “sure looks like” it was orchestrated by the Independence Party and called it “a patent attempt to draw a false equivalent. “There’s only one set of signatures on trial.”

He flatly denied he had falsified on any petitions but he acknowledged he “may have made clerical mistakes” because of the workload he faced carrying multiple petitions.

Mr. Gruber is also seeking the Democratic line by challenging the party’s nominee, incumbent David Lys, in a primary set for Thursday, September 13. Mr. Lys was appointed by the Town Board in January to fill the remaining year of Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc’s term after Mr. Van Scoyoc was elected supervisor last November. The East Hampton Democratic Committee has backed Mr. Lys for election to a full four-year term.

The Suffolk County Board of Elections recently ruled that 11 of 73 signatures on Mr. Gruber’s Independence Party nominating petition were technically invalid, leaving him with 10 more valid signatures than the 54 required by election law, based on the minimum of 5 percent of the party’s enrollment in town. But with the validity of Mr. Gruber’s petition still pending in court, it’s not the Board of Elections that has the last word on the fate of his candidacy.

If the court invalidates his petition, the Independence Party will have no candidate for the November election and Mr. Gruber will be in the running only if he beats Mr. Lys for the Democratic line on September 13.

To assure that he appears on the November ballot even if he loses the September 13 primary to Mr. Gruber, Mr. Lys last week submitted petitions with about 400 signatures to the Board of Elections to run as the candidate of the East Hampton Unity Party. Mr. Lys said he, his wife Rachel and what he called “lifelong friends who believe in me” circulated the petitions personally as a way of “making sure everyone has a chance to vote for me.”

“I don’t think it’s defeatist at all,” he commented. “It think it’s a very good play in the campaign.” He noted that the more lines a candidate has on the ballot, the better he will do in the election, “and I’m doing everything possible to achieve victory on November 6.”

Manny Vilar is the Republican and Conservative candidate for the board seat and Roy Greenberg is the Working Families candidate, according to a tentative and unofficial candidate list released by the Board of Elections late last month.

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Peter Boody is news editor of The Sag Harbor Express. Previously he was the editor of the Southampton Press for many years and also edited several other papers, including the Shelter Island Reporter and the East Hampton Press, of which he was founding editor. He was a regular correspondent for the New York Times Long Island section and wrote the novel “Thomas Jefferson, Rachel & Me.”