Betty Cross should keep Hempstead trustee seat, district lawyer says

Hempstead school board president Betty Cross adjourns a Hempstead school board president Betty Cross adjourns a meeting of the Hempstead School Board on the evening of June 23, 2014. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

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The state education commissioner should allow Hempstead trustee Betty Cross to remain on the school board until he decides the case challenging May 20 election results, a lawyer for the district told the state this week.

The request, in the form of a memorandum written by the school district's attorney Austin Graff, is in response to a petition filed last month on behalf of candidate Maribel Touré, who claimed election fraud, coercion and abuse of the absentee balloting process. All of this, she said, caused her to lose to incumbent Betty Cross.

Touré asked Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. to invalidate Cross' election or remove her from the school board and let the seat go vacant until he renders a decision on the complete petition filed by Touré's attorney, Frederick Brewington.

The school district has until the end of this month to respond to all the allegations in the petition.

District administrators declined to comment on the matter. But in an affidavit filed with the state, Cross said, "This is clearly a political scheme to reverse the election results and an attempt to disenfranchise the Hempstead voters who voted for me."

In Graff's filing, Cross denies wrongdoing.

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"Unfortunately, the petitioners wildly allege that I coordinated a scheme to 'steal' my election by the misuse of absentee ballots," she said. "The petitioners have offered no evidence, whether in the form of testimony or documents, that I was, in any way, involved in any improper vote, absentee or otherwise. I did none of the things alleged against me."

Graff, in the papers, said Brewington made numerous technical errors in his petition, including the failure to name all involved parties.

He said, too, that the petitioner's claims would require all election results be thrown out -- not just those concerning Cross, the former board president who has been a trustee for most of the past 30 years.

He said in his memorandum that the petition was filed on behalf of "sore losers who worked hard, but not hard enough to win the election."

Touré ran as a team with another candidate, Ricky Cooke, the highest vote-getter in the race. She has not called Cooke's election into question, but Graff argues that he, too, would be affected by her claims and therefore should have been named as a respondent in the petition.

Many election-related petitions to the education commissioner have been thrown out for failure to name all involved parties.

Brewington dismissed the criticism, saying the district admitted some wrongdoing in its filing -- particularly in relation to absentee ballots.

"There is a lot for the commissioner to review regarding the actions taken by the respondents to this case," Brewington said Thursday, adding that he will file a response before July 31.

King could take months to decide the issue, but sources close to the matter say he is under pressure to come to a quicker verdict.

The district has had low test scores and graduation rates for years. A recent state audit found that thousands of students' grades had been changed from failing to passing.

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On election night, Touré was found to have 712 votes to Cross' 691.

On May 21, dozens of contested absentee ballots were counted at a hastily called meeting, and Cross was found to have beaten Touré by just six votes.

Of the 344 absentee ballots included in the final count, the school board reported, Cross received 172. Touré got 7 and Cooke received none.

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