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Maribel Touré wins Hempstead school board special election over Betty Cross

Hempstead community activist Maribel Touré awaits election results

Hempstead community activist Maribel Touré awaits election results in a rare school board revote against veteran Betty Cross. Photo Credit: Jo Napolitano

Community advocate Maribel Touré won a decisive victory against a Hempstead district veteran in a contentious school board revote Tuesday that was overseen by monitors from the state attorney general's Civil Rights Bureau.

Touré, 52, a first-time candidate, garnered 1,275 votes to 764 for longtime board member Betty Cross, 68, according to unofficial results released about 11 p.m. Only 32 affidavit ballots were pending for a review by the Nassau County Board of Elections.

All absentee ballots were part of the final tally, officials said. Touré hugged supporters gathered at the Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School waiting for results late Tuesday night as the news began to sink in.

"I'm so happy," she said as she exited the building. "People are going to start to see a light ahead."

When she learned she lost, Cross walked over to Touré and shook her hand, wishing her luck.

"God be with you," she said.

School board president Lamont Johnson said "the voters spoke. The numbers don't lie. We have a complete board now and can work to get a lot of things done."

More than 2,000 Hempstead voters turned out Tuesday to cast their ballots in a campaign that exposed rifts in the community, which has had a predominantly African-American population but continues to see a large influx of mostly Latino immigrants.

State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. ordered the revote after Touré leveled allegations of voter fraud, coercion and misuse of absentee ballots during the May 20 vote. King also requested the state monitors.

Hempstead voters cast their ballots in a campaign that exposed rifts in the community.

Before the polls closed, voters stood in line to use one of five voting machines. State officials wearing white tags that read "Election Monitor" sat beside each machine.

Vehicles lined up three deep by the school's entrance as voters -- some of whom had just gotten off work -- cast their ballots at the last minute.

Supporters of Cross appeared to outnumber Touré's, shouting "Betty! Betty! Betty!" and "Maribel go home!"

James Sharpe, 55, a retired New York City firefighter, chided them and said that as a Hempstead resident he was bothered by their tone.

"I took it as an offense for them to tell one candidate to go home. I remember when I was told to go back to Africa. What's the difference?" Sharpe said.

Resident Tom Noble, 55, an electrician, walked past the crowd, saying the chants didn't influence his vote.

"I want to see a good education -- and what would happen . . . is you have stability, because you don't have people moving out of the area," Noble said. "And that's across the board, not just black kids because I'm black, but all kids."

Supporters of both candidates campaigned near each other, at times trying to outshout the other camp.

"Sir, it's an important election. A 38 percent graduation rate is a disaster!" Sergio Argueta, a Touré supporter, said to one voter. "We need a change."

Alvia Thomas, 64, said she supported Cross, partly because of her viewpoint that the revote should not be happening. Money spent on the special election should instead be spent "in the schools," she said.

"My kids have been educated through the Hempstead public schools, and just about every one of them came through when Betty Cross was there," she said, "and they didn't have a problem."

Isabel González, a 35-year Hempstead resident, said in Spanish that she voted for Touré because the "people in power don't do much for anyone, except take our taxes" while facilities are run-down and some remain shuttered despite overcrowding. "Things are going from bad to worse."

The seat's term expires June 30.

With Joie Tyrrell

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