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Touré, Jackson fight requested delay in Hempstead school board swearings-in

Hempstead school board member Maribel Touré, right, with

Hempstead school board member Maribel Touré, right, with her running mate Gwendolyn Jackson at a news conference in Hempstead on April 23, 2015. At far left is Touré's attorney Frederick Brewington. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Two women elected to the Hempstead school board are fighting the district's request that the state education commissioner delay their swearings-in while a challenge of the May 19 vote is pending.

Maribel Touré and Gwendolyn Jackson, the top vote-getters, say they were elected lawfully and should be able to take their seats in July, according to documents their attorney filed this week with the state Education Department.

The district and the school board, in a petition earlier this month, asked the state to issue a stay stopping the two from being officially seated -- part of an effort to have the election results overturned.

Allegations in the petition and accompanying documents "set forth significant instances of misconduct during the election process that the misconduct became so pervasive that the misconduct vitiated the fundamental fairness of the election," the filing states.

The district and board say the vote was compromised by electioneering, voter intimidation, fraud and misrepresentation and asked the state to annul the vote totals, set a new election and ask the state attorney general's office to oversee the revote.

Touré and Jackson, who ran as a team in the seven-candidate field, have said through their campaign manager, Mimi Pierre Johnson, that the claims are untrue.

Frederick K. Brewington of Hempstead, the women's attorney, called the district's petition "a flagrant ploy from disgruntled individuals, as well as an abuse of the administrative / legal system in an effort to postpone the rightful swearing-in of candidates who ran a successful campaign and properly won seats on the school board."

The two seats will become vacant July 1. Under state education law, trustees must take the oath of office within 30 days of the start of their term. District officials have said Touré and Jackson would be sworn in at a July reorganization meeting unless the commissioner rules in the district's favor. On the district's website, that meeting is set for July 7.

Jonathan Burman, an Education Department spokesman, acknowledged receipt of Brewington's filing but would not comment further. "Because this matter is pending before the commissioner, the department cannot comment on it in any way," he said.

Burman said he does not yet know whether acting Commissioner Elizabeth Berlin or her permanent replacement, MaryEllen Elia, who takes the position July 6, will decide the request for the stay. There is no legal time frame for a decision, he said.

Brewington, in his response to the stay request, said the petitioners' allegations are false, and even if they were true, they would not have changed the outcome of the vote.

For example, he said, while the district and board made allegations of discrepancies in the women's campaign finance documents, any such problems can be easily remedied. "If in fact there was a clerical error on the expenditure form, the mistake would not warrant a stay in the swearing-in of the elected officials, nor is it a sufficient reason to conduct an entirely new election," he wrote.

In addition, contrary to another of the petitioners' claims, Johnson did not try to sway voters on Election Day, Brewington's response said.

"At no time did Ms. Pierre Johnson advocate for any candidate, any ballot initiative or any subject for consideration by voters," the filing said.

The district and school board also accused Touré supporter Melissa Figueroa of misrepresenting herself to poll workers as a family member and then as a translator for two voters, accompanying them into the voting booths. Brewington said she did nothing wrong.The attorney said he expects to expand on some of those points in another filing with the state in the next couple of weeks.

The May 19 election is the second consecutive district vote to be disputed.

Last summer, Touré petitioned then-education commissioner John B. King Jr. when she was found to have lost to incumbent Betty Cross in a May 2014 race that included dozens of disputed absentee ballots. King ordered a revote and Touré won a decisive victory in October.

The most recent vote was contentious from the start, with seven candidates vying for two at-large seats.

A day after ballots were cast, the school board first voted to certify the results and then undid that decision less than two hours later. After the board recognized it had no authority to disregard the election results, it recognized the women as winners.


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