Primary Really Matters

Democratic voters and members of minor parties across New York State will have a chance to make choices next Thursday in primaries for offices from town hall to the governor’s mansion. In East Hampton, the main event — between Councilman David Lys and David Gruber — is for the right to appear on the Democratic Party line in November’s general election.

Mr. Lys joined the East Hampton Town Board in January when he was appointed to fill Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc’s seat. Before that, he spent five years on the town’s zoning board of appeals and helped lead the restoration of the Amagansett Life-Saving Station.

Mr. Gruber ran for East Hampton Town supervisor and lost in 2002. Until recently, his predominant local interest has been lessening East Hampton Airport noise. His candidacy is legitimate even though he has failed to publically rein in his most enthusiastic and occasionally perfidious supporters, who, among other things, falsely claimed that Mr. Lys, a registered Republican, voted for Donald Trump in the last election. (Mr. Lys wrote in his father’s name.) 

The strident opposition to Mr. Lys defies easy understanding, but Mr. Gruber’s willingness to tolerate abject nastiness and falsehoods about him is a big negative. Even if Mr. Lys were to the right of Steve Bannon, the former Trump White House strategist, his single vote on a five-person town board would hardly change its direction. We can think of two possibilities: Either the Reform Democrats fear that Mr. Lys might go on to become town supervisor some day, and then unleash a sleeper cell of Republicans, or they have signed on to Mr. Gruber’s attempt to gain a position of authority, something that has long eluded his grasp. 

By the same calculus, Mr. Gruber would pose little threat should he win the Democratic primary next week and go on to defeat Manny Vilar, the undisputed Republican nominee. Though Mr. Gruber has built his political presence in East Hampton on closing, or strictly curtailing flights at, the town airport, his would likely be a single vote to do so. Given Mr. Vilar’s poor showing when he ran for town supervisor last year, as well as the Democratic registration and turnout edge, it is safe to say that either Mr. Lys or Mr. Gruber would be the winner on Nov. 6.

Because next Thursday’s primary will almost certainly decide who is the November victor, voter participation is critical. Those who prefer Mr. Lys’s role as a community leader to Mr. Gruber’s more behind-the-scenes approach will want to have their say. On the other hand, voters impressed by Mr. Gruber’s many years as a Town Hall observer and airport-noise activist will need to turn out en masse to award him the Democratic ballot line in November. 

It is often not how individuals vote that wins elections but who gets off the couch to go to the polls. Whatever your position on the candidates, a primary is a direct opportunity to influence government in a way that really matters.