After N-word controversy, school board member appears to survive in Broward

Four Broward School Board incumbents appeared likely to hold onto their seats on Tuesday – including Ann Murray, who faced questions during the campaign over her past use of a racial slur.

Seven years ago, Murray uttered the N-word while working as a supervisor in Broward’s school bus department. She was reprimanded, but the incident did not become public until several years later, and Tuesday marked Murray’s first attempt at re-election following the controversy.

Narrowly, it appeared Murray would survive a challenge from Felicia Brunson, the vice mayor of West Park. Brunson, who is black, had received the important endorsement of Broward’s teachers union.

Yet Murray prevailed. Neither candidate returned phone calls late Tuesday.

The N-word issue surfaced at times during the campaign, but voters on Tuesday repeatedly said they either didn’t know — or didn’t care — about it. Murray previously apologized for saying the word.

The voters supporting Murray on Tuesday included Michelle Joseph, a Haitian-American who lives in Hollywood. Joseph said she had heard positive things about Murray from people she knew. With Joseph not having any children in the school system, that positive feedback was basically all that Joseph had to base her decision on.

Joseph said she had been unaware of Murray’s past use of the N-word, but she was forgiving when told about it by a reporter.

“Things happen, and you say stupid things,” she said.

Among all the challengers in Tuesday’s school board races, Brunson came the closest to unseating the incumbent. As Vice Mayor of West Park, Brunson had a home base of strong voter support, and she out-fundraised Murray by a sizable amount — $56,732 to $29,885.

Murray’s use of the racial slur — she once referred to the upper-level Sun Life Stadium seats as “n-- heaven,” — dates back to 2007. But the incident, which occurred in front of a couple of black school district employees, didn’t become public until 2011. Faced with a community backlash, Murray apologized but rejected calls that she resign.

The district is racially mixed: about 45 percent white, 30 percent Hispanic and 19 percent black. It includes all or parts of Hollywood, Hallandale Beach, Dania Beach, West Park, Pembroke Pines, Miramar and Pembroke Park

Voters who supported Brunson repeatedly gave reasons other than the N-word for rejecting the incumbent. At the Hollywood Gardens Condominium polling place, white voter Bernita Blanton cited Murray’s “ineffectiveness” as one of the reasons she voted for Brunson. A registered Republican, Blanton also said she found Murray to be too liberal.

At the Boys & Girls Club in West Park, some of the black voters who chose Brunson said they’d been unaware of the N-word controversy altogether. Voter Terry Evans did know about it when casting his vote, but said it wasn’t a factor in his decision. Evans said he voted for Brunson because of her credentials and past accomplishments.

Asked why the racial slur wasn’t important, Evans responded with a laugh, “Well, I like Paula Deen’s cooking.”

Four additional Broward School Board seats were also decided on Tuesday:

In District 3

, incumbent Heather Brinkworth defeated her two opponents — middle school teacher Sam Budyszewick and district activist Nick Sakhnovsky.

In District 4

, incumbent Abby Freedman defeated district volunteer Bob Mayersohn.

In District 6

, incumbent Laurie Rich Levinson defeated former district transportation manager Lisa Spince. At the Weston branch library on Tuesday, one Broward teacher who voted in that race said she knew Rich Levinson well and was supporting her because “she is committed to hiring teachers.”

In District 7

, incumbent Nora Rupert defeated district bus driver Hubert St. Clair.

Miami Herald reporter Melhor Leonor contributed to this report.

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