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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

Ugly twist in Hempstead school board election

Campaign flier being distributed on Facebook about Hempstead

Campaign flier being distributed on Facebook about Hempstead race. Credit: Facebook

Elections can get ugly, we all know that. But school board races usually do not sink to that level.

Then there's Hempstead.

This is the school district that infamously saw part of last May's election results thrown out by the state education commissioner, who ordered a revote after examining allegations of absentee ballot fraud and voter coercion by campaign workers for longtime board member and power broker Betty Cross. Cross and challenger Maribel Toure faced off again in October and Toure won the showdown decisively.

Now that Toure is running again, the high jinks continue. And they are despicable.

Late last week, a Facebook post touting the team of incumbent trustee Shelley Brazley and running mate David Gates as the strongest opponents of Toure and running mate Gwen Jackson featured a photo of Adolf Hitler complete with swastika on his arm and a quote from the German dictator that ended with: In starting and waging a war it is not right that matters, but victory.

The post, which appears on Brazley's Facebook page, was part of a countdown to today's Election Day, a countdown that on other days included quotes from inspirational figures such as Gandhi, Frederick Douglass and Muhammad Ali. And now Hitler. It's shocking and deplorable that candidates who are going to be making decisions affecting 7,000 schoolchildren thought that invoking Hitler was appropriate.

Underneath the quote was the message: "STOP the Democratic Machine! We've Given Them The Village. Don't Give Them the School District!"

The second part of the message is a blatant appeal to anyone in Hempstead uncomfortable with the influx of Latinos into the community. This kind of racism is deeply disturbing and has wracked Hempstead for years and has been directed at Toure, a Mexican emigrant, in particular. Just last month, Toure's opponents questioned her citizenship in a shameful attempt to remove her from the board; Toure was forced to produce paperwork that proved she is indeed a United States citizen.

The poster referred to Brazley and Gates as "The Bridge Over Troubled Waters." Hard to see how invoking Hitler soothes anything.

Brazley called Newsday Tuesday afternoon and defended the posting as neither racist nor anti-Semitic.

"What I did was simply liken the condition of my community, people in their frame of mind, to that of that time period and that leader and what was able to happen to those people as a result of not paying attention," said Brazley, 58, who is black and works for Nassau County's Office of Minority Affairs.

She told Newsday that neither Gates nor her campaign manager has anything to do with the post.

"History is a love of mine and I know that if you don't know your history you are bound to repeat it. All I was doing was stating a fact, quote ... I am simply saying 'People, wake up.'"

In addition, we're also hearing reports that absentee ballots - yes, that again - were sent out that did not include Gwen Jackson's name. When someone who received such a ballot called to complain, a corrected ballot was sent to her. But it was accompanied by a cover letter on official Hempstead letterhead that lists the members of the board of education.

The list includes Betty Cross and does not include Maribel Toure. The letter is dated May 11, 2015 - more than six months after Toure defeated Cross. The copy here was provided by Sergio Argueta, a co-convener of The Corridor Counts, a civic group that is supporting the campaign of Toure and Jackson.

Argueta said early this afternoon that his group is receiving messages from poll workers that "absentee ballots are being brought in by the bundle. One individual has been in twice already with multiple ballots."

Here's hoping the state attorney general's office doesn't rue its decision not to monitor this election.


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