Chris Kelley has been fighting the good fight for 36 years.
“I remember it was 1982. I was 24, Tony Bullock was 24. Tony was running for a vacancy on the town board in a special election,” he recalled. It was critical time for East Hampton Town. Supervisor Mary Fallon had resigned by then, but her determination to dissolve the town planning board worried conservationists because it would open the door to unsavory developers.
“The Democratic committee was in disarray. It was dysfunctional. We asked the party chairman Andy Malone to step down,” Kelley said. The resulting infighting ended with an election to determine party committeemen. That was the last time that happened — until now.
“Technically, there is always an election but they are never contested,” he said. This year, Kelley is on one side of a very public split within the party (see accompanying article). On the other side is maverick former party head David Gruber, who is challenging the Dems’ official town board candidate David Lys in an upcoming primary (September 13). Kelley is not happy about it.
Gruber has tried to paint himself as a reform candidate breaking with the party on issues like Deepwater Wind and its appointment of Lys, who is a registered Republican, though he intends to switch his party affiliation after the election.
“It’s opportunistic,” Kelley said of Gruber’s positions. “He’s trying to separate himself from the town board and undercut the town board.”
The party initially chose Lys to fill the vacant seat on the town board created when Peter Van Scoyoc was elected supervisor. The term ends this year. Kelley said choosing Lys despite his standing as a Republican in no way weakened the Democratic Party image.
“We ran Zach Cohen and he was a Republican. Cathy Lester was a Republican once. Hillary Clinton was a Republican. People change all the time. Lys has changed his registration,” Kelley pointed out.
Still, Kelley has honed his reputation on the concept that the local Democrat Party runs smoothly and gets results. “It pains me. Politics is so much about finding the right people and then encouraging them,” he opined.
In a way, the primary is a good thing, Kelley surmised. “It’s good and bad news. We have to work a little harder to bring in different people.”