David Lys and David Gruber face off in the Democratic Party primary on September 13 for the right to fight for a seat on the East Hampton Town Board on Election Day. The bigger issue to some observers is the threat to the long-entrenched political machine within the party, which has controlled town politics for the better part of two decades.
Lys doesn’t see it that way. He was appointed to fill Peter Van Scoyoc’s seat on the board after Van Scoyoc was elected town supervisor. There is one more year on the term, and the winner of the Gruber/Lys battle will square off against the Republican challenger Manny Vilar come Election Day.
Lys and Gruber squared off at The Independent’s office on September 6: Lys, Gruber repeatedly charged, is the choice of the political regime that by and large has done little to improve the plight of taxpayers. Gruber paints himself as the leader of a reform movement within the party, which will take back the reins from party boss Chris Kelley.
Lys, a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals for four years, bristled at the suggestion he was Kelly’s choice for the town board seat. “I never spoke to him. I was approached by Peter.” Lys said Kelley didn’t have a hand in appointing him to the ZBA, either.
“I didn’t have a desire to serve but to help my hometown,” Lys related. “I talked to my wife and my family. This is not politically driven.”
Gruber said the current town board has languished for five years, noting affordable housing, water quality (noting especially Georgica Pond), and the litigation concerning East Hampton Airport as examples of the board members dragging their feet. Lys, Gruber said, was brought in to go along for the ride but doesn’t realize it.
“Party leaders defend their own power. The people have to participate in the process,” Gruber said. Lys pointed out a number of initiatives he’s worked on as a town board member including the elimination of “double utility poles in Montauk and quality of life issues in Amagansett.” Lys said also said he’s voted against clients Kelley firm Twomey Latham Shea and Kelley, an attorney, represented while he was on the zoning board.
Both candidates say the noise problem at the airport has to be dealt with. The town is currently going through a legal maneuver called a Part 1-61 board members hope will help. Lys leaves open the possibility of closing the airport down: “For leverage, you can’t take it off the table,” he said.
“David doesn’t know how it works,” Gruber countered. “The town board has got to get control of this thing. We have to get back to where it was a local airport. We are not doing what we should be doing.”
Neither man thinks the town depends on the airport for its financial future.
Gruber, a money manager, had been involved with the local Democratic Party when he was asked to run for town supervisor by Kelley and Pat Trunzo decades ago. Gruber said he was a reluctant candidate at best. Nevertheless, he stayed on and eventually took over as campaign manager from 2003 through 2015, during which he wrote the party’s campaign strategy.
Lys was a Republican when he was appointed to the town board in January but has since filed to change parties. He will officially be a Democrat after the election. He lives in Springs and has four children. He runs Weekend Warrior paddling tours and manages family properties. “My hometown will come out and vote for me. I’m not going to be negative. I want to energize a new generation and be successful,” he said.
Gruber said as a good Democrat he really had no choice to run after he saw party members weren’t free to speak their mind and make their own choices. “The more democracy the better. The people have to be free,” he said.
Gruber sought a position on the Independence Party line to assure himself a spot on the November ballot but a district justice invalidated his petitions.
Lys had the same idea. He submitted petitions for the creation of a new party, the East Hampton Unity Party line, in the hopes of getting on the November ballot, whether he loses to Gruber next week or not. The Board of Elections hasn’t decided on its validity yet.