New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. took over as the head of the Southampton Town Independence Party earlier this spring, his first involvement in party politics since he helped create the grassroots Southampton Party in the early 1990s—and at a time when the Independence Party is poised to play the largest role in an election cycle that a third-party has had practically since that time.
Mr. Thiele himself became a registered member of the Independence Party, which boasts the third largest registration roll in the town, behind the Democrats and Republicans, only a little more than three years ago when he gave up his lifelong Republican Party registration. Now, along with the three other Independence Party-registered incumbent elected officials—Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor and Town Trustee Bill Pell—Mr. Thiele is in charge of organizing what will be a screening process likely every bit as busy as those of the two major parties, since any candidate with the endorsement of any other party will certainly seek the support of the ideologically neutral Independents, and the thousands of votes that a name on their line garners in each election cycle.
Longtime local party Chairman Steve Lynch stepped down earlier this year after he was appointed as a judge in the state Court of Claims. Mr. Thiele said that after speaking with State Independence Party Chairman Frank McKay and Ms. Throne-Holst, he accepted the chairmanship role.
Mr. Thiele said he expects the party to hand out nominations, most of them cross-endorsements of major party candidates, for all of the town offices on the ballot. He said the party’s leaders are currently trying to build a larger local committee with active members, but will, for the time being, rely on the input of the himself and the three high-profile incumbent officials to help guide it as the election approaches.
“Anybody who runs for political office wants to be on as many lines as possible and because the Independence line has been a proven vote-getter and a difference maker in the past, the line is something all the candidates want to screen for,” Mr. Thiele said this week. “We’ll be setting up a nominating committee and we’ll screen all comers.”
With three incumbents on the ballot in three separate town departments, the party has also established itself as something more than a cross-endorsement with mathematical importance in Southampton.
The party may also be facing down its first internecine struggle. Mr. Gregor is running his first reelection campaign for the highly sought after office, and Mr. Thiele said he expects that all three party incumbents will get the party’s nominations. But another Independence Party member, Chris Garvey, is also lining up for a run at the Highway Superintendent’s office, meaning there could potentially be an Independence Party primary for the nomination. Mr. Thiele said he isn’t expecting a primary vote, but he isn’t ruling it out either, nodding to the anticipated Gregor-Garvey.
Mr. Gregor has publicly butted heads with the Town Board and especially Ms. Throne-Holst during much of his four years in office. He has said that Ms. Throne-Holst has actively recruited Mr. Garvey, whose daughter is her deputy chief of staff, to run against him.