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Apr 9, 2019 6:27 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Gruber Will Seek East Hampton GOP Nomination; Reformers Will Force Democratic Primaries For Trustees, Justice

Apr 9, 2019 4:18 PM

The East Hampton Republican Party will screen a handful of new candidates this week to run for supervisor in this year’s town elections—including longtime Democratic campaign strategist David Gruber—in a nascent election campaign that has already turned traditional political allegiances on their ear.

At the same time, the upstart Democratic faction calling itself the “Reform Democrats” has filed petitions that will force an 11-person primary in June for the party’s nominations to nine Town Trustee seats.

The Reform Democrats also are forcing a primary for a town justice seat, into which they have lofted Republican incumbent Justice Lisa Rana against the East Hampton Democratic Committee’s nominee, Andrew Strong.

The town GOP’s original nominee to the supervisor’s race, Richard Myers, long rumored to be rethinking his participation in the campaign, formally declined the nomination on Friday once the party filed petitions officially nominating him. He could not be reached for comment this week.

Mr. Myers’s withdrawal leaves a committee of three party officials named on his petitions—Manny Vilar, the party’s town chairman; its secretary, Kyle Ballou; and John J. LaValle, the former county chairman—to officially designate a new person to replace him on the ballot. Party leaders have been scrambling in recent weeks to find new potential candidates.

In doing so, they have adhered to Mr. Vilar’s pledge since taking over the party that official party registration and positions on national political issues would not be a consideration in forming the slate this year, as the East Hampton Republicans seek some way to overcome broad deficits in voter registration numbers and find a way to win back some influence in Town Hall.

The party, in joining forces with the Independence Party and the Reform Democrats, has already endorsed a registered Democrat, Bonnie Brady, for one of the Town Council seats on the ballot, and four registered Democrats for its Trustee slate: incumbent Trustees Rick Drew and Dell Cullum, former Trustee Stephen Lester, and longtime Democratic Committee member Rona Klopman.

The Democratic Committee has offered its own cross-endorsements to Trustee James Grimes and Highway Superintendent Stephen Lynch, who are both Republicans, but pointedly rebuffed Ms. Rana in favor of Mr. Strong, a political newcomer.

The Republican leadership has called a meeting of the full committee on the evening of Wednesday, April 10, to conduct the new screenings for the top seat, and will hold a vote immediately afterward on whom the new candidate will be.

Mr. Gruber, who is already the Independence Party candidate for the seat this year, confirmed that he will be screening with the Republicans on Wednesday and that he had withdrawn from what would have been a Democratic primary for the supervisor nomination against the incumbent, Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc.

Mr. Gruber said he had thrown his hat into the ring for a Democratic primary only because he wasn’t yet assured of having the Independence Party nomination—which he had in last year’s special town election, only to be thrown off the ballot by a county judge who determined that Independence petitions circulated by the party leaders on his behalf contained what appeared to be forged signatures.

Rather than wage a costly primary battle first—Mr. Gruber spent more than $100,000 of his own money on his ultimately unsuccessful primary fight against Councilman David Lys last year—he said he will seek to win a majority of votes from all voters in November.

“On local issues, there is far more agreement between myself and the Republicans than with the Democrats now,” Mr. Gruber, the Democrats’ candidate for supervisor in 2001 and an integral behind-the-scenes part of all the party’s campaign fights from the late 1990s until 2015, said on Monday.

“I will say the same things I have been saying for the last 15 to 20 years in terms of what I hope for in the future for East Hampton. They will either say, ‘No thanks,’ or they will realize that we are actually on the same page on things locally and say, ‘You know what? Banging away at partisan politics has gotten us nowhere.’”

Mr. Gruber helped found the Reform Democrats with Ms. Klopman amid last year’s internecine battles for control of the Democratic Party—which the upstart group ultimately lost in sweeping fashion. But this week, the group proved it was not going away, filing petitions nominating Ms. Klopman, Mr. Cullum and Mr. Lester as Trustees, forcing a primary with the eight candidates nominated by the Democratic Committee: incumbent Trustees John Aldred, Francis Bock, Rick Drew, Susan McGraw-Keeber, Bill Taylor and James Grimes, and newcomers Michael Martinsen and Tim Garneau. Only Mr. Grimes and Mr. Drew are nominated by both parties and assured a spot on the November ballot.

The Reform Democrats also were able to force Ms. Rana into a primary because town justice seats alone do not require the consent of the party’s county chairman, Richard Schaffer, for a non-Democrat to be nominated.

Mr. Gruber said he would have liked to nominate the entirety of the “fusion ticket”—which also includes Republican candidates Trustee Susan Vorpahl, Michael Havens, David Talmage and Fallon Bloecker Nigro, as well as Town Council candidate Elizabeth Bambrick, who is not registered with a political party—but knew that getting the consent of Mr. Schaffer to challenge the incumbents across the board would be unlikely.

Mr. Myers was not the only would-be candidate to opt out of the tangled political soup of East Hampton politics this week. Zachary Cohen, who had been nominated by the Democrats to be a candidate for Trustees, also declined his nomination. Mr. Cohen is no stranger to the town political realm. He serves on several town advisory committees and regularly lobbies the Town Board for a variety of community groups. He was the Democratic candidate for supervisor in 2011—losing by just 15 votes to Bill Wilkinson—ran unsuccessfully for Trustee in 2015 and lost in a primary for a town council seat in 2017. In a message on Tuesday he gave only a simple reason for opting out this year:

"Too messy."

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Welcome to the party, pal!
By johnj (1017), Westhampton on Apr 9, 19 9:23 AM
"Too messy" according to Zach Cohen.

To all the other candidates that are running in a not too perfect world, thank you. You are giving of yourself to improve our community regardless of the politivcal currents that may oppose you.

To Zach - lickyour wounds from your past defeats and make sure the water is calm and warm before you offer yourself as a future candidate. We dont want you to consider it "too messy".

By pluff (59), East Hampton on Apr 10, 19 8:03 AM
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