Hempstead school board race disputed even as Betty Cross is sworn in
The hotly contested Hempstead school board race remained in chaos last night with an incumbent being sworn in and her main opponent vowing to contest the election.
A hearing is scheduled Thursday in Nassau Supreme Court to discuss, among other things, the validity of absentee ballots.
Longtime school board member Betty Cross took the oath Wednesday after a raucous and hastily called meeting was held to count absentee ballots that were called into question Tuesday night. After the count, Cross had enough absentee ballots to overtake challenger Maribel Touré, who led Tuesday night with 712 votes to Cross' 691.
Newcomer Ricky Cooke, the top vote-getter in the race and Touré's running mate, was also sworn in at the meeting.
Tuesday night, 61 absentee ballots were called into question with 30 ruled invalid, leading to Wednesday's count.
Afterward, Cross went ahead with 719 votes compared to 713 for Touré.
She then resumed her role on the board after the results were certified by the school district's clerk.
Attorneys for Touré and other Cross opponents requested a temporary restraining order Tuesday forbidding the certification of the election until the ballots and all other materials connected to it are inspected.
At Wednesday's meeting to count the absentee ballots, Touré's attorney, Rick Montano, was nearly thrown out by school district security guards after he argued against the process. In her position on the school board, Cross told Montano repeatedly that he was forbidden from speaking on the issue. She changed her mind and allowed him to speak after huddling with the school district's attorneys.
"We have a series of questions with respect to who won this election," Montano said.
Earlier, attorney Frederick J. Brewington, the lead attorney for Touré and Cook, asked anyone in the school district who has witnessed election wrongdoing over the years to come forward to "cleanse their souls and tell the truth."
Hempstead school board clerk Patricia Wright said there was nothing untoward about the voting process Tuesday.
"I had poll watchers in the room," she said. "There were no irregularities."
School board officials said the validity of the 61 absentee ballots was checked at the Nassau County Board of Elections Wednesday morning and it was determined that 30 were filed by nonresidents.
Early Wednesday, Cooke and Touré announced themselves as winners, but Austin Graff, an attorney for the district, said that was premature.
"In order for the election results to be finalized and declared, it has to be adopted by the board of education," he said in an interview prior to the board meeting.
At the meeting, Touré said the hazy finish to the hard-fought race was "business as usual" in the beleaguered Hempstead district and the students are the ones who eventually suffer.
Cross' critics blame the incumbent for the district's low graduation rate, for the lack of programs and services for children, and for creating a climate of fear in the district.
The state Education Department found earlier this week that Hempstead changed some 2,200 final and quarter grades for its students, pushing many from failing to passing.