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Jun 1, 2018 9:12 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

East Hampton Democrats Choose Lys Over Gruber For Town Board Nomination

David Lys, left.
Jun 5, 2018 1:07 PM

The East Hampton Democratic Party’s committee voted on Friday night to nominate Town Councilman David Lys to be the party’s candidate in this fall’s special election for a one-year term on the Town Board.

Mr. Lys was chosen by the committee over longtime Democratic Party operative David Gruber. Two other people, Planning Board member Kathleen Cunningham and Paul Fiondella, had screened for the seat last week but later withdrew their names from consideration.

Mr. Lys, who was appointed to the Democrat-dominated board in January even though he is still technically a registered Republican, could face a primary for the seat in September and must clear some procedural hurdles to become the party’s nominee.

Even though he has filed to change his registration to the Democratic Party, the change will not officially take effect until after the November election. He will have to file for what’s known as a Wilson-Pakula certification from Suffolk County Democratic Party Chairman Richard Schaffer, which allows a member of another party to run on a party’s ticket.

Mr. Lys was appointed to the Town Board in January. He previously served on the Town Zoning Board of Appeals and earned accolades for spearheading the effort to restore the Amagansett Life-Saving Station on Atlantic Avenue.

“I am happy that I’ve earned the respect of my fellow Democratic Party members,” Mr. Lys said after receiving the nomination. “I hope they see the passion I have for my hometown. I think my track record of being involved in this community speaks for itself.”

He said that crafting legislation to guide development in the directions suggested by the recently completed studies of the town’s five hamlets, finding ways to deal with the problems that will be faced by waterfront areas as sea levels rise, seizing the opportunity to create substantial new supplies of middle-income housing, and retooling the town’s wastewater management approach will be on the board’s agenda in the next year or two, and will have long-lasting impacts that need sound minds thinking together in the town’s best interests.

“This board is working very well together,” he added, “and we’re in a position right now to make some very important policy decisions that are going to shape the way the community evolves in the next 30 to 40 years.”

Democratic Party Chairwoman Jeanne Frankl said that she is excited about Mr. Lys’s nomination and for him to be the party’s candidate in the fall, and for many elections in the future.

“We are delighted to have him,” Ms. Frankl said. “He’ll make a great candidate, and he’s already demonstrated his excellent grasp of the issues, his work ethic and his basic empathy with people. We think he has a very large constituency of supporters who will be eager to vote for him, and deservedly so.

“The way he’s approached the job has already validated the judgment of our board, who realized that he would bring an important new dimension to their work.”

“And he’s young,” she added. “So I’m excited, because we’ve been working very hard to recruit more young people to town government. David is a very good man and very representative of our community and of the current Democrats, and I think more people will want to support the Democrats if we support a guy like him.”

Ms. Frankl said that she expects the party’s county chairman to grant Mr. Lys a Wilson-Pakula exemption for the party line.

Mr. Gruber, who said he hadn’t even thought about putting his name up for consideration for the post until two weeks ago, said he is considering petitioning for a primary. He was the party’s candidate for supervisor in the 2001 election, losing narrowly to then-Supervisor Jay Schneiderman in a three-way race in which third-party candidate Bill McGintee captured nearly one-third of the vote.

After the loss Mr. Gruber took over as the party’s committee chairman for two years and has been a consistent behind-the-scenes force in the party.

But he also pointed this week to the recent internal divisions that have cast the town’s dominant party in a negative light for the first time in nearly a decade.

Mr. Gruber nodded to recent appointments to the party committee, which he said were intended to weigh the party’s committee votes in favor of Mr. Lys for the Town Board nomination. Another committee member, Rona Klopman, filed a lawsuit last month accusing Ms. Frankl of having stacked the deck on the committee in favor of her chosen successor, Cathy Rogers, in the upcoming party vote for a chairperson—and Mr. Gruber hinted that he saw the same effect in the nomination vote.

Two committee members are assigned to each of the town’s 19 election districts, and in internal party votes, their votes are weighed according to how many people in their district cast votes in the last state gubernatorial election.

In Friday’s nominating vote, 18 committee members voted for Mr. Lys, representing 2,037.5 votes, and 10 voted for Mr. Gruber, representing 1,190 votes.

“But for the recent appointments, he wouldn’t have won at all,” Mr. Gruber said. “That’s water under the bridge, but as a Democrat, I don’t find it persuasive of a well of Democratic support. So I’m trying to get a sense of how other East Hampton Democrats feel about whether the party is well served this way. We’re supposed to have elections, not coronations.”

Any Democrat who wishes to be considered by the party’s voters in a primary in September can begin circulating nominating petitions as of Tuesday, June 5, and must file them by July 13.

The Republican Party has screened candidates for the post as well, the party’s chairman, Amos Goodman, said recently, but has yet to hold a nominating convention.

In recent statements, Mr. Goodman had left the door open to the party also endorsing Mr. Lys in the coming fall election.

On Friday, Manny Vilar, who ran for supervisor last fall on the party ticket, said he is “a maybe” for challenging the Democratic nominee in the fall, but that he was waiting to see how the Democratic ticket shapes up.

Republican hopefuls for the seat may also begin circulating nominating petitions this week.

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