Political newcomer Taylor Raynor’s stunning Democratic primary upset over 30-year incumbent Deputy Assembly Speaker Earlene Hooper (D-Hempstead) may have implications from Albany to Hempstead schools if Raynor unseats Hooper on Election Day.
Although Hooper — who has not conceded the primary — will still be on ballots on minor-party lines, Raynor likes her chances Nov. 6 against the incumbent and Republican rival James Lamarre in the heavily Democratic 18th Assembly District.
“Stranger things have happened,” Raynor says.
If she unseats Hooper, Raynor says she feels like she “has a huge task ahead,” including helping clean up Hempstead’s troubled school district, besieged by decades of problems including financial mismanagement, corruption, violence, and one of the nation’s lowest graduation rates.
“I do feel that I can really bring about changes in Hempstead,” Raynor says. “Community activism and change…that’s what we need right now.”
Raynor is meeting with community leaders and organizers — including former Hempstead School Board members Melissa Figueroa and Gwendolyn Jackson — who are eager to see change. She believes a good starting point in the Hempstead district is bus transportation, so students will not have to cross busy streets and walk through dangerous areas that have been rife with gang violence.
“We are going to tackle the busing issue first,” says Sydney Daniel, Raynor’s sister, a registered nurse who grew up in Hempstead and attended its schools.
Daniel, who will be assisting Raynor with community projects, says the district utilizes the New York State public school bus protocol, but has never met the needs of students because the protocol says students must live farther than three miles from their school to get a bus, and most in the district fall outside the radius.
“Many parents leave for work earlier than the students leave for school and it’s risky enough knowing your child is waiting at a bus stop, but to know your child has to walk upwards of three miles to school regardless of the weather is quite sad,” Daniel says.
Figueroa agreed busing is a major concern.
“As winter is fast approaching, I think Taylor is being very wise to target public school bussing as a first order of business, as any student who currently walks to school would say unequivocally, busing is indeed one of the greatest areas in need.”
Asked if Hooper was helpful in providing funding for Hempstead schools, Figueroa was blunt.
“Not once did Hooper offer to assist us with funding for projects,” Figueroa says. “Rather, Hooper was actually responsible for fostering and sustaining much of the governmental wrongdoing in the Hempstead school district and in the village over her 30 years in office. That’s the unfortunate, straight political truth.”
Raynor notes that many of the issues related to Hempstead schools are questions of reallocating funding to make sure that the needs of students are being met as well as financial transparency.
“I want to make sure we have a firm understanding of where all the money in the district is going,” she says.
Raynor also encourages leaders from different communities to share information and work together by employing community action meetings, where leaders from diverse communities and districts from surrounding areas such as Baldwin, Freeport, Bellmore and even Jericho can come together and compare best practices.
“Currently, information sharing is not being done consistently,” Raynor says.
She also plans to make certain that resources are available districtwide, such as nutritious food and adequate teachers, including translators, if necessary for non-native English speakers.
As a former Hempstead school board member and audit committee chairperson, Gwendolyn Jackson says she is ready to be the “eyes and ears” for the community.
“Right now the board is unified and that is because all the troublemakers are either on the board or have their candidates on the board,” Jackson says.
But, she says, that doesn’t mean that they are doing the right thing.
“In fact, they are not! I will make sure that the BOE follows its own policies,” adds Jackson, pointing to utilizing the district’s website to disseminate information to the community and televising board meetings.
Of course, there are other issues in District 18.
“The schools, the streets, the taxes,” Daniels says. “The taxes are a problem everywhere in the district.”
For Raynor’s part, she believes that knowledge and community are of the utmost importance.
“Applied knowledge…it’s the greatest power we have,” says Raynor. “We have a village, a community. There is too much to do to be divided.”