By Nicole Alcindor
Before Michaelle C. Solages became an assemblywoman representing the 22nd Assembly District in Long Island, she spent most of her life quietly surrounded by books.
As a teenager, she spent hours reading and studying. On the rare occasions when she left her quiet spaces, her family said, it was to attend church with her family and volunteer there by reading books to children.
In her early 20s, as a librarian, she also spent most of her time sitting quietly behind a front desk, silently maneuvering around bookshelves and cataloging the texts.
“If you told me prior to 2012 that I would be elected into office, I would say ‘you’re crazy,’” said Solages, now a four-term Democratic legislator. “I was not looking into politics. However, that is why when I had the opportunity to run for political office, I took it. We need people who have a common-day perspective to be in office.”
Solages, the first Haitian-American to represent Long Island in the Assembly, serves Elmont, Valley Stream, Floral Park, Bellerose, Bellerose Terrace, North Woodmere, Stewart Manor
“Michaelle is an extraordinary leader because she advocates for her constituents and always lends a listening ear and comes up with solutions,” said Anayo Michel, owner of Layla’s Dance and Drum Dance Studio in Valley Stream. “Michaelle is a champion for the small business community and the arts. She is always encouraging the community to support local businesses.”
Recently, fellow assembly members chose Solages as chair of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus (BPHA).
“I’m glad that I’m chair of the caucus because there are many issues in the Black and brown communities that we need to address,” Solages, 35, said. “Many of the issues I want to tackle are common-day issues, such as systematic racism, which has stopped a whole host of New Yorkers from being able to access the American dream.”
Solages grew up in Elmont in the 1980s, with her parents Philippe and Micheline Solages and three siblings.
“Michaelle was always very shy growing up, but I always encouraged her to do good things for her community, especially disadvantaged people,” said Philippe Solages, a retired New York Police Department police officer and military veteran. “We never imagined that she would be doing what she is doing now, but it is rewarding and we are extremely proud because she is helping communities in need.”
Michaelle Solages, in turn, attributes her success to her parents.
“I have two strong Haitian-American parents who always valued education and they instilled in me to work my hardest,” Michaelle Solages said. “They taught me not to expect anything, that nothing is given to you and you need to achieve the highest heights.
“[But] this is very expensive,” Michaelle Solages said. “And we need to look at this as a state to see how we can make this affordable.”
Back in 2008, Michaelle Solages found herself unable to find affordable housing on her librarian’s salary. Fortunately, her parents welcomed her to live at home until she could save up enough money to move out on her own.
She has settled with her own family, also in Elmont, and is a mother of two children, a 2-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old son.
“Some people are not lucky like how I was and we are going to have a lot of evictions,” Solages said. “I want to make sure we protect individuals. We need to make sure that there are housing consultants available and ready to help individual people.”
When Solages first took office in 2012, she came into the Assembly with a cohort of 25 Democratic legislators who helped her enact legislation that made sure politicians obeyed the law and, if they were corrupt, lose their pension. Her cohort also advocated for better transparency in the budget.
This year, Solages faces Republican Nicholas Zacchea in the November 3 election. She is largely expected to win, given the area’s Democratic leanings and support she receives from residents.
Going into 2021, the key issues Solages plans to address are the wealth gap, access to capital for people of color, housing discrimination, health disparities, and eviction and foreclosure. All issues exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, and that impact Black immigrants, like her, disproportionately.
The assemblywoman wants to address housing discrimination, she plans to hold real estate agents accountable. If re-elected, Solages plans to implement legislation that takes away the real estate license of any agent found guilty of housing discrimination.
“We need to send a clear message that in New York State, we take this very seriously,” she said.
Closing the healthcare gap and ensuring every person has access to adequate care through a better healthcare system are also top priorities. Making it easier for people to understand their healthcare bills, for one, can be solved by making healthcare navigators help people.
“She has helped our local libraries with educational programs, which is something of true importance,” said Mike Stanko, of Valley Stream. “Her support for small businesses in our community and her work with our changing population is priceless.”
The assemblywoman said she also credits the Haitian community with inspiring her daily.
“The Haitian community has put their trust in me to be an elected person, to be an elected office, and every day I work hard because I have to improve their lives,” she said. “We have to make sure that the Haitian-American community is always thought of when it comes to different issues, that they aren’t forgotten, and given access to resources.”