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Nassau Democrats allow some borrowing to go through

Nassau County Legislature Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams is

Nassau County Legislature Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams is joined by his Democratic colleagues during a news conference on March 7, 2016, to announce they will block $275 million in capital borrowing until changes to the Nassau procurement process are made. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Nassau’s legislative Democrats on Monday backed off their pledge to block all borrowing for the county’s $275 million capital plan, after majority Republicans pressured them by breaking out high-profile projects for individual consideration.

The County Legislature, after an extended debate, unanimously approved three bond measures totaling $7.2 million for public safety equipment such as new body armor for police officers, replacement police ambulances and patrol car computers.

The support by the seven-member Democratic minority — which is necessary to reach the legislature’s 13-vote threshold for borrowing — came after intense pressure throughout a six-hour meeting from GOP lawmakers, police leaders and union officials.

Until Monday, Democrats had largely withheld their votes for capital borrowing. They had said they would continue until the 12-member Republican majority and Republican County Executive Edward Mangano agreed to create an independent inspector general’s office to investigate county contracts.

“It was never an easy vote,” Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said of the caucus’ borrowing stance.

Citing the recent terrorist attack at an Orlando, Fla., nightclub that killed 49 people, Abrahams said Monday, “We would be ill-advised, as well as having our head in the sand, to continue the stance” for public safety projects.

Democrats continued to block borrowing for other projects, including $6 million to match state and federal grants to replace NICE buses and $11.6 million to replace underground fuel storage tanks.

“I am not going to sit here and watch you pontificate and tell us how you are looking to be good government officials,” Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said angrily to Democrats. “No, you’re not — you’re looking to pursue a political agenda.”

Abrahams defended the larger principle, citing several county contracts that have become the focus of local or federal prosecutors over the past year.

Before Democrats agreed to support the public safety bonding, Nassau Police Benevolent Association president James Carver said a “no” vote — especially for the body armor — would have been an affront to officers.

“No matter how you explain it, my members will think you don’t care,” Carver said. “Don’t fight on bulletproof vests. This isn’t the issue.”

Ron Gurrieri, executive vice president of the Nassau Civil Service Employees Association, said some police ambulances, which are staffed by his members, are badly in need of replacement.

“God forbid Orlando did not happen here, because we would have not been able to respond,” Gurrieri said.

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