‘Fusion’ Ticket Goes Down in Flames
In a tersely worded statement issued Tuesday afternoon, the East Hampton Town Republican Committee announced that it had been unable to persuade G.O.P. county leadership to let candidates who are not registered Republicans appear on the party’s line in the Nov. 5 election. As a result, two of the committee’s candidates for town board, Bonnie Brady, a registered Democrat, and Betsy Bambrick, who is unaffiliated with a political party, will not be on the Republican line.
They will, however, appear on the Independence and Conservative Party lines, along with others endorsed by the Republicans but not registered with the party.
David Gruber, a nonparty member, screened for the G.O.P. endorsement for supervisor on April 10. He has said he won the nomination, though Kyle Ballou, the committee’s secretary, would not confirm that, but he too will be left off the Republican line. He was the only candidate to screen that night, after Richard Myers, the committee’s initial nominee for supervisor, decided not to run.
According to the Republicans’ statement, their efforts to secure so-called Wilson-Pakula documents — authorization given by a political party to a person not registered with that party allowing him or her to run as its candidate — were unsuccessful. Mr. Ballou said Tuesday that “everything was issued, but there was not enough time.”
For Ms. Brady and Ms. Bambrick, both he and Manny Vilar, the committee’s chairman, who is president of the Police Benevolent Association of New York State and was in Albany Friday on P.B.A. business, would have had to send signed and notarized documents to the County Board of Elections by that day’s 5 p.m. deadline. A Wilson-Pakula authorization for Mr. Gruber would have had to reach the Board of Elections by 5 p.m. on Tuesday.
Jesse Garcia, who was elected the county Republican chairman last week, would have been the one to issue the authorizations. “The county chairman would not sign it,” Mr. Ballou said. “I don’t know why.”
“We still fully stand behind the candidates — the other Democrats we’ve been working with on the trustee lines and other lines,” Mr. Ballou said. “We’ll continue to work with them and gain some ground in November.”
Mr. Gruber, who leads the East Hampton Reform Democrats, whom he has described as “a caucus within the Democratic Party,” has the East Hampton Independence Party’s endorsement for supervisor. He had hoped Mr. Garcia would issue the Wilson-Pakula, as Mr. Vilar had requested, and said Tuesday that he was uncertain “whether this represents a foul-up on somebody’s part . . . or even a backroom deal with Democrats and Republicans at the county level.”
The April 10 meeting with members of the Republican Committee “went fine,” he said, adding that “they gave me a substitution certificate, which I filed on Friday. The last piece of the puzzle was the Wilson-Pakula.”
During that screening, Mr. Gruber, a former chairman of the East Hampton Town Democratic Committee and its 2001 candidate for supervisor, accused the present town board of “rampant cronyism” and, possibly, “genuine corruption.” He emphasized areas of agreement with the Republicans, and downplayed conflicting opinions. Some members of the committee were clearly uneasy about his stance on such issues as undocumented immigrants and East Hampton Airport.
“I helped create a monster, this Democratic machine monopoly,” he told the committee.
The screening followed internal deliberations in which Republicans grappled with a Hobson’s choice: Endorse a candidate of whom some were suspicious or skeptical, or endorse no one. “I don’t know where this guy stands on much,” said one member. “I’ve never voted for a Democrat in my life. . . . I don’t go for this at all.”
But another cited Mr. Gruber’s “thoughtful letters” to The Star, adding that “I’ve never disagreed with anything he’s written that I recall. . . . I think he does espouse conservative principles, especially in the economic arena. . . . This candidate has name recognition, he has experience, and he has a lot of interest in our community.”
There was also concern expressed that Mr. Gruber might campaign for Perry Gershon against Representative Lee Zeldin next year. Mr. Gershon, an East Hampton Democrat who narrowly lost a challenge to Mr. Zeldin last year, has said he will challenge him again.
The Republicans’ reception was “everything I could have hoped for,” Mr. Gruber said. “But they’re not running the county. They can’t control that. That’s how the system is set up. We all have to work within the often arcane rules in New York State election law, which are basically designed to make it as difficult as possible to get on a ballot.”
In East Hampton, he said that “the allies on the ‘fusion’ ticket — Republican, Independence, and Reform Democrats” — were aligned, and had the same goals.
Mr. Gruber will face Peter Van Scoyoc, who is serving his first term as supervisor. Ms. Brady and Ms. Bambrick will face Councilwoman Sylvia Overby and Councilman David Lys. Mr. Van Scoyoc, Ms. Overby, and Mr. Lys are three of the five Democrats on the town board. The other two, Kathee Burke-Gonzalez and Jeff Bragman, are not up for re-election this year.
Democrats vastly outnumber their rival political parties in East Hampton in terms of voter registration. Tuesday’s announcement put a damper on hopes for electoral success via a fusion ticket, which Republican, Independence, and Reform Democrat officials had hoped would create a winning combination against the Democrats.
“Though disappointed, the East Hampton Town Republican Committee is not deterred in its efforts to reach across party lines,” the committee’s statement said, “so that East Hampton Town voters have the broadest choice in selecting those who wish to serve our community first.” The committee “fully supports the assembled fusion ticket and has worked diligently on and pledges to support each candidate on that assembled fusion ticket whether they appear on the Republican line or not.”
But Elaine Jones, chairwoman of the East Hampton Independence Party, was not as sanguine. “I am livid,” she said Tuesday. “You have no idea. We worked so hard to get this slate together, and now we don’t have a slate. . . . If we don’t have a full slate on the Republican, Independent, and [Reform] Democrat lines, who’s going to go out and vote? This is horrible, this is the worst thing that’s ever happened.”