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Former federal auditor challenges Michaelle Solages in Assembly race

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For the past seven weeks, Nicholas Zacchea has been seen handing out his biography to passersby at Long Island Rail Road stations and at supermarkets in the 22nd Assembly District, as part of his bid to unseat Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages.

The district was formed in 2012, when sections of three existing Assembly districts were pieced together, and Solages, 35, has represented it ever since. It includes parts of Franklin Square, Elmont, Valley Stream as well as North and South Valley Stream, Floral Park and South Floral Park, Bellerose Terrace, North Woodmere and Stewart Manor.

Zacchea, a Republican from Floral Park who declined to disclose his age, said he decided to run because he was “becoming very disappointed in the way governance was being handed out,” and was upset with the rise of socialist rhetoric in the country.

“My experience has been in government,” he added. “I know how government should work.”

Zacchea was an auditor for the U.S. Government Accountability Office for more than 30 years, providing legislators with information they needed to make informed votes on various bills, and even sometimes drafting legislation based on the information he gathered. In his role, he said, he was not allowed to express opinions, and could only present facts — a practice that he still tries to adhere to.

In fact, he recounted, a supervisor once asked him to review his team’s findings on the needle-exchange program in New York City, which, during the HIV epidemic of the 1980s, allowed drug users to safely dispose of injection equipment and receive new sterile needles and syringes in exchange. Zacchea said he was morally opposed to the program at the time, but when he saw that the evidence his team had gathered showed that it “significantly helped reduce the spread of HIV,” he changed his mind.

Federal agencies also recruited Zacchea to serve as an auditor and investigator while he was serving in the GAO. From 1977 to 1980, for example, he managed a staff of 85 auditors, criminal investigators and support personnel who conducted energy audits in New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The audits, he said, uncovered numerous incidences of energy companies engaging in illegal activity.

In 1988 and 1989, Zacchea managed a 10-person team teaching Saudi Arabians how to properly conduct audits, before returning to New York as the assistant director of the GAO, and eventually he joined the United Nations, taking part in peacekeeping missions in places like Haiti — where the military took control in a coup d’état in the 1980s — and conducting more audits.

After leaving the United Nations in the early 2000s, he said, “I started to get calls from accounting firms” to train more auditors in former Soviet countries, while training the U.S. Agency for International Development personnel on the techniques he used at the GAO.

By 2012, Zacchea was working in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but when his wife became ill, he started turning down foreign assignments. After she died in 2015, he applied for jobs at local universities, and has been teaching economics at Molloy College, in Rockville Centre, since 2017.

“I have a hell of a lot of experience in government,” he said, adding, “People are talking about socialism now. I saw the havoc it caused in those countries.”

He used to travel around former Soviet countries, he said, giving lectures about the benefits of a free-market economy, and many of those he spoke to, he said, began to realize how the economic system they were living under restricted their liberties.

He also said he was injured several times while living in countries with socialized health care, and once had to wait 10 hours for eye surgery.

Additionally, Zacchea said, he is against calls to defund police departments, because he spent time in countries where police departments were underfunded, and it was “not unusual for me to be stopped and for the police to search my car for money.”

Instead, he would support legislation establishing an independent unit that would look into personnel issues, as he did, he said, with the Los Angeles Police Department in the early 1990s. There, he said, he helped created an analysis system to determine which officers were more at risk of engaging in illegal activities, in order to “pre-empt problems before they start.”

Solages, a Democrat from Elmont, said she thought it was funny that Zacchea was so opposed to socialism, when he likely has family that benefits from Social Security — a program that some consider socialist.

She also said that during her time in office, she was able to:

Secure $1 million from the state budget for the implementation of universal preschool on Long Island, because in towns like Elmont, Valley Stream and Floral Park there was not enough child care.

Push for legislation to ensure that women have access to adequate health care to reduce the likelihood of their dying during childbirth.

Have hundreds of smoke detectors installed.

Pass legislation requiring Industrial Development Agencies to livestream their meetings.

Implement a recreational running program in Valley Stream.

Republicans, Solages said, have eliminated the federal, state and local tax reduction, and are suing the federal government in an effort to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, which, she said, helped reduce medical debt in New York.