“Independence Party Picks Gruber” The East Hampton Star proclaimed on March 4. The venerable Star was not alone — other newspapers reported the same news. Party head Elaine Jones reportedly told reporters Gruber was chosen to run for East Hampton Town supervisor at the Independence Party convention.
He was, although a press release issued did not list his name. That may have amounted to a Freudian slip, though, as sources say Gruber will not be running for the top spot, or any other elected position, if a well-thought out plan becomes a reality.
The East Hampton Republican Party announced its slate as well, which is closely aligned with that of the Independence Party. Richard Myers, the chairman of the East Hampton Town Architectural Review Board, has been chosen by the GOP to run against Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, though Myers acknowledged upfront there is a good chance he won’t be on the ballot come Election Day.
Though conspiracy theorists may wonder what’s going on, party leaders deny that backroom maneuvering is taking place. Manny Vilar, the head of the GOP committee, and Jones both said it’s a matter of presenting the best possible slate of candidates to the public.
And that list, they say, does not include Van Scoyoc.
In fact, local party leaders acknowledge this is going to be a wild political season indeed. And politicians, especially the career-kind, can change their stripes in a hurry.
In Southampton, it has already begun. James Ding, chosen to run for the town board, was abruptly replaced with former Town Police Detective Charles McArdle a week later.
Christine Preston Scalera, the popular councilwoman who many thought would challenge Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, pulled the plug on her candidacy just hours before the nominating convention.
Incumbent Trustee Bruce Stafford was summarily dismissed from the GOP ticket.
One reason why candidate slates are unstable so early in the process is a new state law that moves the primary election date up from September to June 25, meaning candidates wishing to challenge their party’s designated selection must hit the streets and gather petitions earlier than ever before.
The truth is, “No one is guaranteed a ballot line for a public seat,” said Nick Lalota, the Republican Suffolk Board of Elections Commissioner. At least not yet. “April 1 through 4 is the time the parties present petitions. They can’t be presented before then.”
After that date, any party member can challenge a candidate chosen by the committee through a primary election.
A member of another party also interested in the same position can challenge as well. “A non-member must get what we call a Wilson Pakula, an authorization to run,” Lalota pointed out.
There is still time to decline a nomination at this point. Candidates can be disqualified by their respective committee until April 8.
There is one more opportunity to change horses midstream: A candidate on a ballot who is offered a judgeship can accept, and the party can replace that person with another candidate at that juncture provided he or she is an attorney.
Gruber said last year that he should not have run. He said he “isn’t ready” to talk this week about his current plans.
East Hampton Town Councilman Jeff Bragman, who issued a “no comment” when quizzed about developments, is aware of the situation. Chances are good that should he run for the top spot, he will garner three ballot lines —Republican, Independence Party, and Conservative — plus lead the Reform ticket in the Democratic Party primary.