Lys Trounces Gruber in East Hampton's Hard-Fought Democratic Primary

Reform Democrats fall short in push to remake party
David Lys celebrated his primary victory on Thursday night with his wife, Rachel. Durell Godfrey

David Lys, who was appointed to the East Hampton Town Board in January to fill the seat vacated when Peter Van Scoyoc became town supervisor, is the apparent victor in Thursday's Democratic Party primary election, handily defeating David Gruber, whose Reform Democrats had sought to remake the party.

"I think what happened is that the Town of East Hampton decided to go with the moral values of David Lys instead of the moral compass of David Gruber," Mr. Lys said at Rowdy Hall on Thursday night. "They decided to make sure that the person who stays above the fray and does it for the whole town instead of themselves will always come up above. I always wanted that."

Unofficial results from the Suffolk County Board of Elections had Mr. Lys winning the contest 1,489 to 884, victorious in all but two of the town's 19 election districts.

Mr. Lys will face Manny Vilar, the Republican Party's candidate, in the Nov. 6 general election. "I think it’s going to be great to talk about the issues, to make sure that the whole town now gets to vote on the candidate, the person that they want to represent them on the town council," Mr. Lys said. "I hope that’s me."

The mood was jubilant at Rowdy Hall in East Hampton as Mr. Lys and officials including Supervisor Van Scoyoc, Councilwomen Sylvia Overby and Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, County Legislator Bridget Fleming, Francis Bock, clerk of the town trustees, Susan McGraw Keber of the trustees, and incumbents and candidates for the Democratic Committee watched returns come in on the board of elections website.

If he wins in November, Mr. Lys will fulfill the final year of Mr. Van Scoyoc's term and would have to stand for re-election in 2019, should he wish to continue on the board. "I think I’ve worked hard, I’ve researched hard, I’ve done my homework, and I’m ready to keep going forward for another year," he said Thursday.

The East Hampton Democratic Committee chose Mr. Lys as its candidate in the spring, in the midst of a fraught campaign to select a new committee chair to succeed Jeanne Frankl, who retired. That struggle, in which the Democratic Committee ultimately chose Cate Rogers as its new chairwoman over Rona Klopman, was followed by the establishment of the East Hampton Reform Democrats. Mr. Gruber became its standard-bearer and candidate for the town board. Ms. Klopman lost her bid for a seat on the Democratic Committee on Thursday.

The Reform Democrats ran a full slate of candidates for the Democratic Committee. More than 70 candidates from the Democratic Party's "establishment" and "reform" camps vied to represent the town's 19 election districts on Thursday.

The primary election campaign was at turns genteel and punctuated by attacks. Democrats held a 4-0 majority on the town board after the November 2017 election. Mr. Lys's appointment to the fifth seat angered some Democrats, who complained that Mr. Lys was a lifelong Republican. Mr. Lys, who recently changed his party registration from Republican to Democratic, said that he had never participated in politics before but that he came to realize that his views align with those of the Democratic Party.

Since forming the East Hampton Reform Democrats, which he described as a caucus within the Democratic Party, Mr. Gruber has been a frequent critic of the town board, particularly Mr. Van Scoyoc, Ms. Overby, and Ms. Burke-Gonzalez. In mass emails and on social media, the Reform Democrats have harshly criticized the town board over its handling of the town's emergency communications system and the proposed South Fork Wind Farm.

Councilman Jeff Bragman, also a Democrat, joined the Reform Democrats in their criticism of Mr. Lys's move to form an independent party, the East Hampton Unity Party, to ensure himself a line on the Nov. 6 election ballot were he to lose in the primary.

Mr. Lys's father, Hakim Lys, played a role in the primary election in another way: Reform Democrats challenged Mr. Lys's claim that he had not voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Mr. Lys told The Star that he had cast a write-in vote for his father.

In another unusual aspect of the campaign, the East Hampton Independence Party chose Mr. Gruber as its candidate for town board. East Hampton Republicans, however, challenged the validity of the Independents' nominating petitions. A State Supreme Court judge sided with the Republicans, and the petitions were invalidated. Mr. Gruber had no involvement in the gathering of signatures for the Independence Party petitions.

Amos Goodman, the Republican Committee's chairman, has also mounted a challenge to Mr. Lys's Unity Party nominating petitions. That challenge is pending.

Cate Rogers, left, chairwoman of the Democratic Committee, pored over early primary results with Denise Savarese and Christopher Kelley at Rowdy Hall on Thursday night.Christopher Walsh