Joe DeFina: Soldier, officer, politico

August 8, 2012 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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If Bay Ridge’s Joseph DeFina had to write his resume, he would need more than one page to describe his work history, which includes the military, law enforcement and politics.

DeFina, 83, a retired police detective, also served in the U.S. Marines, and ran for Bay Ridge’s City Council seat twice in the 1990s.

“I think I’ve done a lot,” said DeFina.

He’s commander of the American Legion’s George Washington, Victor Allegretti Memorial Post (Allegretti is the late co-owner of the Bayside Fuel Corp.) and past Kings County commander of the American Legion. He serves as chairman of the National Immigration and Naturalization Sub-Committee and is a member of the National Americanism, Children, and Youth Committee.

“We keep tabs on legislation and tell the politicians it needs to be regulated more. Illegal immigration seems out of whack these days,” he said.

Each year, the American Legion honors 50 police officers as part of its “Law and Order” program. DeFina is the chairman of that event.

“The American Legion is an important thing to me. We have to look out for our veterans,” he said.

During his years with the NYPD (1955-1981), DeFina was a sergeant at the 73rd Precinct and then the 75th Precinct. At the 90th Precinct in Williamsburg, he directed the Neighborhood Police Team in what was then a new concept in community policing.

“I had half the precinct under me,” he said. “We cut down crime quite a bit.”

At the time of his retirement in 1981, he was a detective in the NYPD’s Intelligence Division.

Over the years, DeFina has incorporated his knowledge of law enforcement into other jobs he has held. He served as chief of investigations for the New York City Housing Authority. He was the director of security for Caledonian Hospital and Bayside Fuel Oil Corp. He also directed security for Saint Patrick Church at church-sponsored bazaars for a number of years.

DeFina loves living in Bay Ridge.

“It’s a good neighborhood,” he said.

He and his wife Camille bought their home in the mid-1950s for about $18,800 and are still living there. The DeFinas have been married for 63 years. Their three children are all graduates of St. Patrick School. DeFina helped raise $85,000 that went toward the construction of the school building.

DeFina was born in Carroll Gardens.

“When I was a kid, we called it Red Hook. I remember that the docks were always busy and there were a lot of longshoremen around,” he said.

He attended P.S. 142 and Stuyvesant High School. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from John Jay College. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1946 to 1951.

“I was in the air corps. I didn’t do any heroic things. We were testing new planes,” he said.

DeFina met his wife, whose maiden name is Camille DiSerio, when he was 15 years old.

“We met by the Cyclone,” he recalled.

They were married years later at the Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Little Italy. The DeFinas have three children, eight grandchildren, and a great-grandchild.

DeFina, a Republican, is a past chairman of the Edmund Seergy Republican Club in Bay Ridge and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Armand Starace Republican Club.

He twice ran for City Council against Democratic incumbent Sal Albanese in 1991 and 1993. He lost both times, but his second run proved to be memorable for two reasons.

“I got 20,000 votes. Now, between the winner and the loser, it’s not 20,000 votes,” DeFina said.

Secondly, his 1993 race attracted the attention of Rudy Giuliani, who won the race for mayor that year. Giuliani tapped DeFina to serve as director of security for the New York City Housing Authority, a position he held until 2007.

These days, he is devoted to his family and to the American Legion. He is also a member of the Community Club at the Fort Hamilton Army Base.

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