About 20 supporters of longtime Hempstead school board member Betty Cross marched through the village's downtown business district Saturday to protest her removal from her post while her May re-election is investigated.
Last month Cross, a former board president who has served seven terms as a board member since 1978, was forced to step down while state Education Commissioner John B. King considers allegations of voter fraud and misuse of absentee ballots. An election probe by the Nassau County district attorney's office is also underway. The school board denies any irregularities.
Leslianne McShine, whose three children attend district schools, helped to organize the march. She said she thinks outsiders are making trouble where there is none.
"I feel that there's too many outside people coming into Hempstead. I have dealt with Miss Cross on many different occasions. She has dignity and she is committed to the children here," McShine said.
Hempstead resident Maureen Davis said she also stands behind Cross, a fellow member of Faith Baptist Church.
"She has never appeared to me to be that type of person" to do what she is accused of, McShine said. "She is fair, honest and a woman of integrity."
"I support Ms. Cross in everything she does," said Shawna Davis, 18, another participant in the half-mile march. Davis graduated in June from Hempstead High School.
"She's a really nice person and what they're doing to her is wrong," Davis said. "It was a very fair race."
During the march, demonstrators chanted "No justice, no peace," and sang "We Shall Overcome." They made their way from the school district offices on Peninsula Boulevard to a special prayer service for Cross at Faith Baptist Church on North Franklin Street.
When protesters reached the downtown church, a beaming Cross was there to greet them.
Asked by reporters what she thought of the demonstration, Cross said, "I am very grateful. That's about all I can say."
Cross was among seven candidates competing for one of two at-large seats in the May 20 election. On election night she came in third behind Ricky Cooke and Maribel Touré, but an absentee ballot count the following day made Cross the winner by six votes over Touré.
Touré and district residents filed a petition with King in June, claiming election fraud, coercion and abuse of the absentee-balloting process. The document included affidavits from residents who said absentee ballots were given to unqualified voters and tricks were used to get people to vote for Cross.