G.O.P., In Disarray, To Select New Chair

Julia C. Mead | January 1, 1998

Robert Davis, the East Hampton Town Republican Committee chairman, has resigned, and former Councilman Thomas E. Knobel appears to be the likeliest candidate for the job.

The Town G.O.P., which made a poor showing at the polls in November, needs a major restructuring, said Mr. Davis, whose resignation took effect yesterday. The new leader will inherit an organization in such disarray that it was left after Election Day with an estimated $6,000 deficit.

Mr. Knobel left Town Hall yesterday, his term as a Councilman ended and his bid to be Supervisor unsuccessful.

Mr. Davis, who was elected chairman in the spring, said the overhaul could not come too soon. Major state and Federal elections are on the horizon, he noted.

Internal Discord

Though the next town election is not until 1999, local Republicans will be expected to campaign for Rep. Michael P. Forbes, Senator Alfonse D'Amato, Gov. George E. Pataki, State Senator Kenneth LaValle, and State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., all of whom face challenges in November.

"The committee has to take a strong, hard look at itself, and, if it's going to point any fingers, it has to be sure those fingers are pointing in the right direction," said Mr. Davis.

The implication was clear: Local Republicans are blaming each other for the loss of their Town Board majority, rather than the Democrats who took it away.

Restructuring

Mr. Davis, who decided to resign during a reflective post-election vacation after just a few months in office, said he felt no bitterness about his departure.

Calling it "the first step toward reorganization," he said he had to be talked into accepting the unpaid post in the first place and in any event was more concerned about the party's future.

"A political organization should restructure any time you have a campaign like we just had, after you have so many things go wrong," he said.

Some of the problems were avoidable, said Mr. Davis, and some were not.

In the first category, the committee got so late a start on fund-raising and campaign strategy that it never released a party platform and left individual candidates to speak for themselves.

In the second, the company hired to print G.O.P. bumper stickers and palm cards went out of business at the height of the campaign.

"How many excuses do you want? I could go on and on," said Mr. Davis, only half-jokingly.

Nevertheless, he acknowledged that he and others were "in total shock" at the Democrats' wide margin of victory in the crucial races and are still not sure what went wrong.

Support For Knobel

A former Town Trustee who is now a Springs Fire District Commissioner, Mr. Davis said he would remain a voting committee member. Christopher Nuzzi, the vice chairman, will take over until a new chairman is elected, probably in February.

The matter is on the agenda for the next meeting, on Wednesday, and Mr. Davis said he expected a subcommittee would be named to recommend a replacement.

However, ranking Republicans, including the departing chairman, all said Mr. Knobel was the best candidate and that he had strong support.

"Who else has their finger on what's happening locally and on thecounty level? If there's someone else out there, I haven't heard about them," said Mr. Davis.

For his part, Mr. Knobel declined this week to say how he would reorganize the committee or even to say if he thought he had the chairmanship in the bag.

"It would be an interesting honor," he said.

He did say he believed the immediate role of the Republicans, once again in the minority, should be to insure the continuation of "a viable two-party system."

Twomey Latham Shea

"We have always felt we were fighting the looming law firm, the firm with connections up west, to Judith Hope," said the former Councilman, who left Town Hall yesterday after an unsuccessful run at the Supervisorship.

Mr. Knobel was referring to Twomey Latham Shea & Kelley. The firm's senior partner, Thomas Twomey, is married to Ms. Hope, chairwoman of the State Democratic Party. Christopher Kelley, also a senior partner in the firm, is the town party leader.

Mr. Knobel has never been a G.O.P. committee member - as an elected official, he was prohibited by a two-year-old town law - and, he said, "would not presume to pass judgment on anything the committee did or did not do."

Duryea Resignation

He voiced his own political philosophy in his nomination-acceptance speech last summer and said it had not changed: to "incorporate the widest number of folks," especially "all the new folks flowing in here at a relatively constant rate."

Mr. Davis was part of a failed 1995 coup against his predecessor, Perry B. (Chip) Duryea 3d, that left Mr. Duryea in power but conciliatory toward his opponents.

Mr. Duryea resigned this year in the face of a potential conflict. His family's Fort Pond Bay application was pending before the Planning Board, whose chairwoman was Pat Mansir, Mr. Duryea's favored candidate for the Town Board, who is now Councilwoman Mansir.

Mr. Duryea chose Mr. Davis as his successor.

Sought-After? Not

"I thought we were organized after that problem was cleared up," said Mr. Davis, saying he would have preferred to run the campaigns of two close friends, Mr. Knobel and Assessor Fred Overton, who was re-elected.

"The job of the chairman is to mold the committee into a cohesive group, but," he concluded, "you can't make everyone happy. It's not exactly a job that people go after."

Mr. Knobel said Monday he has not decided what he will do for a living. The jobs available in county government, though controlled by fellow Republicans, are few, he said, and not appealing.

Knobel's Options

"There is a very modest swirl of options," said Mr. Knobel, adding he might have something to announce on that subject in the next week or two.

He was a bayman before and after he ventured into politics.

As for the problems a new party leader must address, Mr. Knobel said he saw them as "opportunities that beckon."

"If everything was perfection," he said, "there would be no great need to change."