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Touré takes seat on Hempstead school board

Maribel Touré, right, a Hempstead community activist, is

Maribel Touré, right, a Hempstead community activist, is sworn in by clerk Patricia Wright for a board seat at the Hempstead school board meeting held at Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School on Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014. Photo Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

Maribel Touré took her seat on the Hempstead school board Wednesday, more than five months after leading an election challenge that brought action from the state's education commissioner and attorney general's office aimed at ensuring district residents had a fair vote.

"I want you to get to know me," Touré told an audience of about 30 people upon joining the other four trustees at a special board meeting and being sworn in. "I'm looking to work together with everybody."

Touré, 52, won a decisive victory in Tuesday's special election over Betty Cross, who has served on the board for most of the past three decades, often as president, and was the focus of the contested May 20 election.

She received 1,277 votes to 764 for Cross, district clerk Patricia Wright said. The official total included two affidavit ballots in which someone voted legally on another resident's behalf, boosting Touré's tally by two votes. Cross' results stayed the same as the preliminary figure announced late Tuesday night.

Thirty absentee ballots were disregarded for various reasons, including that the voter did not live within the district's boundaries.

Board president Lamont Johnson congratulated Touré and later noted she has been active for years, attending numerous meetings.

"She is not a Johnny-come-lately," he said, adding that he thinks the board will do well with her as a member. "We want to push forward."

Cross, 68, was not present at the meeting.

The special election marked the second time the women had faced off. They were among seven candidates in the May election for two at-large seats.

Education Commissioner John King Jr. ordered the school board to set the special election after Touré challenged the results, accusing Cross and her camp of election fraud, coercion and abuse of the absentee balloting process. Cross denied wrongdoing.

King also asked the attorney general's Civil Rights Bureau to oversee all aspects of the election, in part to ensure that Spanish-speaking voters would be treated fairly after Touré alleged some Hispanic voters were discouraged in casting their ballots.

About a dozen representatives from the bureau acted as monitors during the election.

King, in a statement, thanked them for their work.

"I asked the office of the New York State attorney general to oversee the election to protect the integrity of the voting process in Hempstead," he said. "Attorney General [Eric] Schneiderman and his office's Civil Rights Bureau did just that."

A spokesman from that office said she had no comment.

The term of Touré's seat expires June 30. That position and trustee Shelley Brazley's seat will be up for election in the spring, and Touré and Cross may vie against one another yet again.

Touré said she plans to run.

"The job just got started," she said. "Not running again would be like giving up."

Cross also plans to be a candidate and is confident she can win, said her campaign manager, Cornell Bozier.

Brazley could not be reached for comment.

Ricky Cooke received the most votes in the May race. His election never was called into question.Cooke said he was glad to see Touré take her seat on the board.

"She took the long route home, but she's finally gotten here and that's a great thing," he said, adding that her presence may help the district tackle academic and safety issues. "We have to change the mindset that's taken hold in the past 20 years."

Touré said she wants to expand after-school programs, hire teachers so class sizes can be reduced, and make parents feel more welcome at board meetings.

"That's something we can do right now," she said.

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