Indy Party Under Fire

Allege forged signatures on petitions for Gruber
David Gruber Durell Godfrey

The East Hampton Independence Party is under fire for accusations that petitions it filed with the Suffolk County Board of Elections nominating David Gruber as its candidate for town councilman are fraudulent, containing eight forged signatures and the name of a person who died in 2016. 

“We have a stack of affidavits saying, ‘I didn’t sign this,’ ” Amos Goodman, chairman of the East Hampton Town Republican Committee, said last week of several signatures on the Independence Party’s nominating petitions for Mr. Gruber. “We’re going to go to court to get him bounced” from the Independence Party line on the Nov. 6 ballot, he vowed. 

Manny Vilar and Gerard Larsen, who ran unsuccessfully for East Hampton Town supervisor and councilman on the Republican Party line last year, are petitioners in a suit filed on July 25 seeking to invalidate the petitions and thus the Independence Party’s nomination of Mr. Gruber, who is also set to face Councilman David Lys in a Sept. 13 Democratic Party primary election. 

The Independence Party announced its selection of Mr. Gruber as its candidate on July 14. The suit, which cites several additional irregularities in the nominating petitions, seeks to bar the board of elections from including Mr. Gruber’s name on Independence Party ballots for the primary or general elections. He was to appear at a hearing this morning at State Supreme Court in Riverhead, but it has been adjourned until Friday, Aug. 10. 

Mr. Larsen is a registered Independence Party member. Last year, he, Mr. Vilar, and their running mate on the Republican ticket, Paul Giardina, sought but did not receive the party’s nomination for supervisor and councilmen. Mr. Larsen attempted to force an Independence Party primary, but a state appellate court overturned an earlier decision and his effort failed over a minor flaw in the wording of his petitions. 

A July 17 release from the Republican Committee announcing Mr. Vilar’s candidacy for town board stated that Lisa Mulhern Larsen, Mr. Larsen’s wife, who made her own unsuccessful bid for town board in 2015, had considered a run this year but ultimately abandoned the idea and threw her support to Mr. Vilar. Ms. Mulhern Larsen is a member of the Independence Party.

Last week, Elaine Jones, chairwoman of the East Hampton Independence Party, accused the Republican Party of “trying to hijack the Independence Party” by “getting Independence people to run primaries.” Ms. Jones implied that Mr. Goodman tried to blackmail her, threatening to challenge the Independence Party’s petitions if the party would not allow a primary challenge by Mr. Vilar. 

Mr. Goodman dismissed the accusation of attempting to force Mr. Vilar onto the Independence Party line. “Frankly, I believe that we have to do things differently as a Republican Party if we’re going to have different results,” he said last week, referring to Mr. Larsen’s effort to force an Independence Party primary last year. “Part of that is applying strict scrutiny the way it applies to us. So when you see Jerry Larsen bounced off” an Independence Party primary bid in 2017, “you’re damn right I’m going to look at the petitions.” Ms. Jones “can call that blackmail,” he said. “It’s not.” 

Mr. Goodman said that an investigator who examined the Independence Party’s nominating petitions found them riddled with fraudulent signatures, and predicted that enough will be deemed invalid to scuttle the Independence Party’s appearance on the November ballot. The party needs 54 signatures to put a candidate on the ballot. Of the 73 it submitted, the Republican committee charges that 32 are invalid, which, if substantiated, would leave them short of the requirement. “This was forgery, filing a false instrument,” Mr. Goodman said. 

Ms. Jones fired back yesterday, saying that she wished she had filed a challenge to the Republicans’ petitions, citing signatures and addresses she said were illegible and suggesting that many had been written by the same person. The deadline to challenge petitions was July 16, according to an official with the board of elections. 

In a press release he issued on Tuesday, Mr. Gruber questioned Mr. Goodman’s motives, saying that he “simultaneously carried nominating petitions for Mr. Vilar in the Republican Party and for Lisa Larsen in the Independence Party. It is highly unusual, to say the least, for a party chair to seek to nominate someone else to run on another line against his own candidate.” It was clear, he said, that Ms. Larsen’s nomination “was only a maneuver” by Mr. Goodman to put Mr. Vilar on the Independence Party line, “although the Independence Party does not want him there.” 

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr. Gruber said that he was grateful for the Independence Party’s endorsement but, as he is not a member, he had no control over the process. “I discovered, to my chagrin, that legally and formally, I am the respondent in the petition filed to invalidate those petitions,” he said. “Never having been involved in this, I was unaware. I’m trying to figure out what is the appropriate response.” 

“In a sense,” he said of the Independence Party, “I consider myself essentially a guest in their house. I am very grateful for their endorsement,” he said, pointing to “their recognition that I am very concerned about the fate of the local community here, which I think is their dominant concern.” 

He acknowledged that being kept off the Independence Party line on Election Day would be “a big disappointment,” but the Sept. 13 Democratic primary in which he will face Mr. Lys is “far more critical.”