Tangled Political Plot

In town board race, battle for ballot line rages on
David Gruber Durell Godfrey

With the Nov. 6 election for a seat on the East Hampton Town Board barely 10 weeks away, party officials are lobbing charges and countercharges of fraudulent nominating petitions. Meanwhile, David Lys, the councilman defending his seat, is moving to form an independent party to ensure his appearance on the ballot in the event he loses a primary election next month. And, in yet another wrinkle, the attorney leading a legal challenge to one party’s petitions was indicted on Tuesday on an unrelated matter. 

Elaine Jones, chairwoman of the East Hampton Independence Party, said on Monday that she had visited multiple people listed on the Republican Party’s nominating petitions for Manny Vilar, its candidate for councilman, and that “the first 20 people said that they did not sign his petition.” She listed a dozen names and corresponding addresses, each of whom, she said, denied that the signature appearing on the petition was his or her own. Further, she said that one signatory on the Republicans’ petition is deceased, a charge the Republicans have leveled at the Independence Party’s nominating petitions for David Gruber, who heads the East Hampton Reform Democrats and is challenging Mr. Lys in the Sept. 13 Democratic Party primary.  

Ms. Jones’s move followed a Republican Party challenge, filed with the Suffolk County Board of Elections, to the Independence Party’s nominating petitions for Mr. Gruber. That challenge came in the wake of Republicans’ effort to force a primary challenge by Mr. Vilar for the Independence Party’s nomination. 

Should the Republicans prevail in a suit filed on July 25 seeking to invalidate the petitions and thus the Independence Party’s nomination of Mr. Gruber, the Independence Party line on the Nov. 6 ballot will be blank. 

At a hearing last Thursday at Suffolk County Supreme Court in Central Islip, “several witnesses testified that they did not in fact sign” Independence Party petitions, Amos Goodman, chairman of the East Hampton Town Republican Committee, said yesterday. The proceeding is to resume tomorrow. 

Ms. Jones, however, is pressing the Republicans with her claim that it is in fact their petitions that are fraudulent, although the deadline to challenge petitions was July 16, according to an official with the Board of Elections. “He is a notary,” she said of Mr. Goodman. “He is supposed to ask for identification. . . . This is as bad as it gets.” 

Mr. Goodman pushed back in an email on Monday and again by telephone yesterday. Ms. Jones’s move, he said in the email, is “her latest attempt to muddy the water by asserting that there was something bogus with my petitions.” Mr. Gruber, he said, “tried to do that in the run-up to the hearing, and his lawyer tried at the hearing, but it didn’t stick because it’s very flimsy. And irrelevant. And false.” The claim that the Republicans’ petition includes a deceased person “is just pure projection, and I’ve seen this ‘evidence’ and the name is not legible. It’s just a blatant attempt at whataboutism, and a sort of sly shift from ‘we did nothing wrong’ to ‘everyone does it.’ It’s laughable.” 

Yesterday, he repeated the assertion that Ms. Jones is attempting to create a false equivalency. “I’ve never done anything wrong, my petitions aren’t on trial,” he said, although he allowed that “it’s possible we were sloppy,” and may have filled in addresses next to the wrong signatures on nominating petitions. Any discrepancies, he insisted, “were certainly not willful. . . . There’s only one set of petitions on trial. I categorically deny anything untoward in this regard. I think it’s unfortunate that this is what they want to do, and it’s also fundamentally irrelevant. There was a time to raise objections, and nobody raised them. As far as the law,” he said of his party’s nominating petitions, “they’re all valid.” 

On July 31, Mr. Gruber said that he was grateful for the Independence Party’s endorsement but, as he is not a member, he had no control over the process. “I discovered, to my chagrin, that legally and formally, I am the respondent in the petition filed to invalidate those petitions,” he said that day. 

In an effort to ensure that he appears on the Nov. 6 ballot, should he lose the Democratic primary election, Mr. Lys submitted petitions to the Board of Elections on Monday offering himself as the candidate of a newly created East Hampton Unity Party. 

In yet other news related to the tussle for Mr. Lys’s seat on the town board, The New York Law Journal reported yesterday that Guy Parisi, the attorney representing the Republicans in their legal challenge to the Independence Party’s petitions, was indicted on Tuesday for allegedly trying to embezzle from a decedent’s estate, of which he was the court-appointed administrator. 

“I’m sure folks will use this unrelated thing to muddy the water,” Mr. Goodman said yesterday. With the expectation that the challenge to the Independence Party petitions will conclude tomorrow, “and we’re already lashed to him, and he’s innocent until proven guilty, it’s too disruptive to switch horses.”