The fate of the Nassau County Legislature could boil down to one race: the heated war between two-term Legis. David Mejias (D-Farmingdale) and his Republican challenger, retired county police sergeant Joseph Belesi.
The 14th District, which includes parts of Old Bethpage, Farmingdale, South Farmingdale, North Wantagh, Levittown and the Massapequas, once a Republican stronghold, remains a contested battleground this election. Whoever emerges victorious—barring any other upsets—would decide the balance of power in the county Legislature, either securing the one-vote Democratic majority or tipping the scale to the Republicans. The two combatants have faced off before—Belesi lost his attempt to unseat the Democrat in 2007.
This time around, it’s as vicious as ever, with Mejias quick to draw first blood. The lawmaker characterizes Belesi as a “double-dipper” and “no-show patronage employee” who “has abused the taxpayer to line his own pockets.” Mejias is critical of Belesi’s past pay out from the police department, his annual state disability pension and his current position as a legislative aid and public safety advisor for Republican Minority Leader Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa)—thus his being paid twice by taxpayers.
New York State and county Comptroller’s Offices records obtained by the Press indicate Belesi, who was rehired part-time by Nassau at an hourly salary of $34 in 2008, earned more than $114,000 and $138,000, respectively, in 1999 and 2000. His termination pay and 2001 salary combined brought him nearly $437,000, according to the records. Belesi is also collecting more than $100,000 annually from a state pension, they state.
Belesi, a decorated Vietnam War veteran with more than 32 years under his belt in county law enforcement ranging from narcotics to special operations, tells the Press he’s proud of his previous service to both the country and the county, and explains that he’s earned—sometimes with his own blood—every cent, detailing numerous injuries he’s sustained throughout his career defending the public.
“I have integrity,” says Belesi. “I have honesty. And I will fight for [constituents].”
The legislator is the managing partner of Mejias Milgrim & Alvarado, PC. He stakes his campaign on his record, he tells the Press, describing himself as “independent” who has challenged both parties—and held up budget proceedings—to ensure county residents the best and most cost-efficient policies. Mejias boasts of his holding the line on taxes for five of his six years in office and identifies cutting spending and keeping taxes low as the most important issues facing constituents.
Says Mejias, “I took on my own party and held up the entire budget until we cut another $25 million. I took on the Republicans and the Democrats when they had a backroom deal to give themselves 90 percent pay raises and defeated the pay raises.”
Mejias claims, as vice chair of the legislature’s public safety committee, that his opponent hasn’t shown up to any public safety meetings or related functions—while still receiving a paycheck. The minutes of the Sept. 30 public safety committee legislative budget hearing reflect Mejias’ anguish.
Mejias says the county’s July 28 Heroin Summit is another example, alleging Belesi only dropped by for a short time, then left, yet clocked in as having worked six hours that day. Payroll records obtained by the Press verify Belesi clocked six hours.
Belesi vehemently denies the allegations, explaining he’s paid hourly and only required to show up to meetings Legis. Schmitt requests. Belesi adds that he was at the Heroin Summit, sitting in the back, and describes the claims as par for the course from Mejias, someone he describes as a yes-man for County Executive Tom Suozzi more concerned with diversionary tactics than addressing issues.
“I’ve served the people of this country and Nassau County for 34 years total and I intend to keep serving,” he says. “I have to give back for what I’ve got.”