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Activist asks state to monitor Hempstead school election

Hempstead School Board President Lamont Johnson, left, with

Hempstead School Board President Lamont Johnson, left, with clerk Patricia Wright, right, named the board's choice of Khalid Lateef to be hired as the district's ombudsman, as mandated by the state earlier this year, at a school board meeting on Thursday, May 14, 2015. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

An activist writing on behalf of two citizens' groups has asked the state attorney general's Civil Rights Bureau to monitor Tuesday's school board election in Hempstead.

The request by The Corridor Counts and New York Communities for Change was made in a letter dated May 12 and signed by Tammi Mitchell, a resident who is a member of both groups.

Frederick K. Brewington, a lawyer representing the grassroots groups, said Friday that no response has been received.

The attorney general's office has no comment, a spokeswoman said. Six monitors from that office oversaw the October special election in the district at the request of then-State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr.

The Corridor Counts is based in Hempstead, and New York Communities for Change has chapters on Long Island and in New York City.

Mitchell's letter said monitoring is "absolutely essential" to ensuring voters' interests. Of particular concern is the "barrage of disparaging prejudicial remarks aimed at trustee Maribel Toure, who is running for re-election," it said.

Lucas Sanchez, director of the Nassau County office of New York Communities for Change, said the upcoming election is critical. "We are on the verge of having a board that is functional and whose only interest is the children," he said.

But change can't take place without proper oversight, he said. The board last month asked Toure, who was born in Mexico and just elected to the board in an October special election, to prove her citizenship after her status was called into question by members of the community.

"This is further proof that they will purposefully attempt anything and everything to steal the election from trustee Toure yet again," the letter stated.

Board president Lamont Johnson said he would welcome monitors but doesn't think they are needed. "The district has followed the guidance of the attorney general and has put the necessary procedures in place to ensure a clean election," he said.

Toure ran against longtime board president Betty Cross for one of two open seats last May. Cross came in third on election night, but when dozens of contested absentee ballots were counted at a hastily called meeting the next day, she was found to have won by six votes and was quickly sworn in.

Toure complained to the state, alleging voter fraud. After considering the matter, King took Cross off the board and ordered that a special election be held.

Toure faced off against Cross on Oct. 28 in a heavily monitored election and won by a margin of nearly 2 to 1.

Mitchell said that just because one election was monitored does not mean all future elections will be run lawfully. "We need monitors for a couple of years until we can put in place procedures that will prevent this from ever happening again," she said.

Two at-large seats are up for election Tuesday, each carrying a three-year term. Toure and Gwendolyn Jackson are running as a team. Other candidates are incumbent Shelley Brazley and David B. Gates, Caprice Rines, Jeffrey Spencer and Hans Thevenot.

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