Roiling division among Democrats in East Hampton Town has set the stage for a September primary race for candidates hoping to run under the party banner for a one-year term on the East Hampton Town Board.
The primary ballot will also include two competing slates of 38 residents vying for seats on the town’s Democratic committee.
Town Councilman David Lys and David Gruber, a former party chairman, both filed petitions last week with the Suffolk County Board of Elections for the Democratic Party’s nomination to seek election in November for one-year term on the board. Only one seat is up in November to fulfill the term left vacant when Peter Van Scoyoc was elected supervisor last fall.
In January, Mr. Lys — an East Hampton native and local business owner who previously served as a member of the town’s zoning board of appeals — was appointed to the town board in a 4-1 vote, with newly elected Councilman Jeffrey Bragman casting the lone vote against his appointment.
Mr. Lys received approval from the Democratic Party’s county chairman, Richard Schaffer, to run on the party’s line — a step necessary for the former Republican who changed his party affiliation before his nomination to the town board, but cannot officially switch parties until after November’s election per state election law. Mr. Lys was supported by a majority of the Democratic committee in East Hampton over Mr. Gruber in early June.
Later that month, Mr. Gruber announced he intended to force a primary with the support of a caucus of party members that had split from the rest of the committee under the banner of East Hampton Reform Democrats.
Early this week, both factions lashed out at each other in press releases announcing each group planned to back a full slate of 38 candidates for seats on the committee, in addition to the support being thrown behind their respective candidate.
“This Town Board is better at wishing and hoping than sound planning,” wrote Ilissa Meyer, a committee member and founder of the Reform Democrats in a release issued Monday. “We have no concrete plans to achieve any of our goals for water, coastal protection, control of airport noise, or housing and job opportunity. David Gruber has the depth of practical and political experience to jump start a sleeping Town Board.”
“The Town Board doesn’t seem to care much about complying with the law, including the Community Preservation Fund law, the State Environmental Quality Review Act, and the Open Meetings Law,” charged Rona Klopman, another committee member and founder of the Reform Democrats. “They just do whatever they want, ignoring the laws they are supposed to protect. That won’t be possible if David Gruber joins the Town Board.”
Ms. Klopman was unsuccessful in her bid to lead the committee in the wake of former chairman Jeanne Frankl’s decision to step down from the post, later filing a lawsuit accusing Ms. Frankl of violating election law, stacking committee assignments in favor of her preferred candidate, Cate Rogers. That was later dismissed and Ms. Rogers was elected chairwoman on the committee on June 20 by a vote of 18-11.
On Tuesday, Ms. Rogers released her own statement, noting 38 committee people, two for each of the town’s 19 election districts, had filed petitions to be on the town’s Democratic Committee.
“I am thrilled that Democratic members of our community have come forward in support of my election and the current town board to volunteer as local committee members representing their community to continue the good work of our organization and for the benefit of the entire community,” Ms. Rogers said in the release, which also carried the support of Supervisor Van Scoyoc and former Supervisor Larry Cantwell.
“We look to the East Hampton Democratic Committee to help support our efforts in bringing progressive and innovative solutions to our environmental and social needs in the community,” said Mr. Van Scoyoc in the release. “By creating issues and being unable to see the forest for the trees, the naysayers in the Gruber/Klopman slate do not add to a productive debate over the needs of our community.”
“I will be voting for the Cate Rogers slate,” said Mr. Cantwell. “They are a smart, hardworking bunch. The Gruber/Klopman slate will create even more disruption and turmoil than they already have if elected to the Democratic Committee. It is time for us to focus our sights on our Republican adversaries including Lee Zeldin and the man in the White House and stop creating issues to divide us.”
Whoever wins the September primary will face Manny Vilar on the Republican Party line on November’s ballot. Mr. Vilar, who ran an unsuccessful bid for town supervisor in 2017, has also filed petition to be on the Conservative Party line. Mr. Gruber has won the support of the Independence Party, and will be able to run on that party line regardless of the September primary.