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Change in Hempstead schools must get beyond power politics

People turn out to vote on Tuesday, May

People turn out to vote on Tuesday, May 19, 2015, on the school board, budget and issues at the Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School in Hempstead. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Let's be clear about this: What's going on in the Hempstead school district regarding election results for two school board seats has nothing to do with educating children. It has everything to do with people trying to cling to power.

It's about jobs, the biggest jobs program in Hempstead. It's about the flow of money through government, who gets contracts, and who helps whom. It's about hanging on to your sense of place in a community with rapidly changing demographics. It's about the old order losing bit by bit its spot atop the pedestal, and pushing back. Hard.

When ballots were counted Wednesday night, two candidates pushing reform in Long Island's most troubled school district had won. Incumbent Maribel Toure and running mate Gwendolyn Jackson topped seven contenders with 678 and 500 votes, respectively; incumbent Shelley Brazley (457) was third. But Toure and Jackson have yet to be declared winners. And the district is in chaos. We can't have a repeat of what happened last year.

After the board certified the vote Wednesday, it went into executive session and emerged to approve three motions: to decertify those same results, to ask the state education commissioner to call for a revote, and to authorize lawyers for the district to sue any parties involved in alleged election-related fraud. The anti-Toure portion of the crowd, uncomfortable with the growing Latino population in the district, exploded with glee, just as it cheered the night before when candidate David Gates, Brazley's running mate, responded to news that the ballots would not be counted that night with a thunderous declaration, "This means war!"

Thursday, the district's attorney, Monte Chandler, took a deep breath and stepped back. He said he is urging the board to be "methodical" and "smart" in determining whether allegations of misconduct are valid, and that decisions be based on the law and the facts. That's the right call. He will be held to his words. Chandler must lead an honest and transparent effort, no small expectation in this district.

One allegation is that Toure's team engaged in electioneering because some voters brought translators to the polls. Translators are allowed. But they're not allowed to influence a voter's choice. That's the rub for Chandler and company. They must prove whether anything that happened actually influenced the outcome of the election before they go to the state education commissioner, the only person with the power to invalidate election results and order a revote.

Hempstead knows this well. The district had to conduct a revote last year because of allegations of absentee ballot fraud and voter coercion in last May's election by campaign workers for longtime board member and power broker Betty Cross. Cross and Toure faced off again in October and Toure won decisively.

The district cannot be torn apart again. Formidable opposition is not the same as fraud. Investigate, but do so fairly and promptly, and settle this once and for all. Change is necessary and inevitable, and all involved are going to have to work to that end. They owe that to the children they all profess to love.


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