Legis. Joseph Belesi, a retired Nassau police sergeant, said he "agonized" over Monday's vote to downsize four precincts to community policing centers, but the decision ultimately came down to conscience, not party politics.
"I was not forced to vote in any way," Belesi (R-Farmingdale) said Tuesday. "I examined the plan top to bottom, the positives and the negatives. And I felt deep down as a professional that it will not affect public safety."
Belesi, who served as a police officer and supervisor for 33 years, said the vote was the toughest of his political career. The GOP controls the Nassau County Legislature by a 10-9 majority, and Belesi was believed by some to be a potential swing vote.
In the weeks leading up to the vote, Belesi said there was "arm twisting" from police unions and GOP leaders. The stress took its toll, as he ended up hospitalized with chest pains, which he attributes to the pressure of the vote. Belesi did not have a heart attack but is on heart medication.
Belesi, whose 65th birthday was Monday, says he did not make up his mind on the vote until the last minute, but in the end it came down to a pledge by the GOP not to raise taxes.
"People in Nassau County are hurting," he said. "Our taxes are through the roof."
When the time came to vote, Belesi, his eyes welling up with tears, simply said, "I vote yes. I vote aye," and quietly exited the chambers. The audience exploded with anger, with some calling Belesi, a decorated Vietnam veteran who was awarded the Purple Heart, a "coward" and a "traitor."
Belesi said he may have angered some of his former police colleagues, but "my real friends will understand. I did what I thought was best for the taxpayers of Nassau County."