TAMPA — Hillsborough County School Board member Carol Kurdell beat back a challenge Tuesday from a candidate who wanted to keep a Muslim advocacy group out of the classrooms.
Terry Kemple, a conservative Christian activist, said he stood for much more. He called for accountability from administrators. He wanted more rights for parents.
But in the end, people remembered his campaign against the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which he accused of terrorist ties — at board meeting after board meeting.
"Mr. Kemple took that issue on and he did that for nine or 10 months," said Kurdell, who won nearly 57 percent of the vote. "You were either in one camp or the other."
Kemple didn't disagree. "There's no question in my mind, with the way the media coverage was, that a lot of people had that perception," he said.
But, he said, while anti-CAIR sentiment delivered some of his votes, "a lot of other people voted for me because of what I stand for."
To his detractors, including CAIR executive director Hassan Shibly, Kemple stood for intolerance.
Shibly said the controversy motivated some Muslims to vote for the first time. "I want to thank Kemple for making that possible," he said.
This was the second School Board race for Kemple, 66, who over the years has rallied against same-sex marriage and in favor of closing school on Good Friday.
It was the sixth straight win for Kurdell, 67. She emerged from a crowded primary field and ran on her record and experience.
Superintendent MaryEllen Elia said she could have worked with either candidate. Kurdell, she predicted, "will continue to be a strong advocate for students, teachers and employees in this school district."
Kurdell said she looks forward to helping guide the district through a challenging time.
Board and community members are asking hard questions about exceptional student education, in light of a recent student drowning at a middle school and a lawsuit stemming from another child's death in January.
Kemple, meanwhile, said he will talk with his wife and supporters, pray, and contemplate his next move. "I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing and I'm not going to stop," he said. "I've been at this for 17 years. I've won some battles and I've lost some battles. I've been given an assignment."
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]