May Cover Inspector General Lucy Lang on Serving NY Families While Raising a Family of Her Own
At New York Family we rarely interview appointed officials. But New York State Inspector General Lucy Lang is no typical government official. Sure, we had a little extra security on our cover shoot because, well, she is a big deal. But she is also a native New Yorker and a mom of two who loves her job because she is passionate about the state she was born and raised in.
Lucy is so New York that she refers to her family as “interfaith” because she loves the Mets but her hubby is a Yankee fan. Her Instagram is dotted with family outings to classic New York institutions like the American Museum of Natural History, Coney Island and the Children’s Museum of Manhattan. Born, raised, and currently residing in Manhattan, Lucy is raising a young family in NYC, just like myself and many of you. She also has challenges, her youngest was recently diagnosed with Dyslexia (more on that in a bit) and at our cover shoot she was busy balancing the kids, work and home. Sound familiar?
She takes her job as mom seriously, but her family isn’t the only one she’s vowed to serve and protect. In her position, she’s tasked with protecting the most vulnerable New Yorkers. We sat down with Lucy to talk about her two biggest roles: as Inspector General of New York state, and as Mom.
Let’s start with what inspired you to work in law.
I would say that before I knew that I wanted to work in law, per se, I knew that I wanted to work in government and public service. I have always had a sort of deep sense of the importance of fair, equitable, thoughtful government as being critical to the well-being of people and families. And it is really a long standing love of government that led me to law school with an eye towards ultimately landing in public sector law.
You’re a busy mom! Do you find it difficult to balance career and family life? How do you do it all?
The amazing privilege of serving as Inspector General is that I have the responsibility to ensure that the agencies’ systems and services that protect vulnerable New York families are doing so with integrity. And it is a tremendous privilege to be able to do that while also raising my own young family. I’m very fortunate to have a very supportive extended family, including my siblings and my parents, and my in-laws. And as your readers will know, it truly does take a village to balance a demanding professional life and the demands of young children. But I feel incredibly fortunate to have the support to be able to do it and the privilege to be able to do it.
I would certainly say I don’t do it all; I rely on an amazing staff to do it all here at work. I rely on an amazing family and an amazing babysitter to help me do some measure of it at home.
We really have worked over the past year and a half, since my colleagues and I took over administration of the Inspector General’s office, to make it as family-friendly a place to work as possible. And so that really has meant getting to know the needs of all of our staff, trying to make sure that we have flexibility where possible, prioritizing substantive excellence in our work in our investigations and public reporting, while at the same time encouraging everyone to balance the needs and demands of young families, aging family members, their own health, their wellness and recovery from the trauma of the pandemic, etc. So, building a state agency that is a model for how to deliver public service while at the same time valuing each employee’s contribution has been at the crux of what I have sought to do over the past year and a half and what I intend to continue doing for the rest of my administration.
What are some of the causes or issues that have become more important to you since becoming a parent? Probably a big question!
Yeah, it is but I’m glad that you asked. I have two brilliant children, one of whom happens to be dyslexic and I have been shocked to learn how much more remains to be done at schools of all kinds to support students with language-based learning differences. And really the true heroes amongst us, our literacy specialists and reading teachers are doing the hard work of building up the next generation of public servants and citizens. And I can’t say enough about how much I admire teachers who teach our kids to read and how much more we need to do to support young readers with a diversity of backgrounds, including with language based learning differences.
One really interesting piece of our work is our jurisdiction over the State Department of Corrections. I visited all 44 prisons across New York state during my first year in office, after having spent a number of years teaching college in several New York state prisons. And what has been interesting to me, especially in my family’s literacy journey, is looking back on my time as a teacher in prison. I am now realizing how many of my students must have been facing literacy challenges, either because they lacked adequate literacy education as children, or because they had undiagnosed language-based learning differences that had gone untreated, or both.
And so, for example, I remember that there was a group of men I was teaching at Queensboro Correctional Facility who told me that they had formed a reading group to work on their homework together where they would read aloud the assignments. And, as I look back on it now, I realized that it was really because one of the students actually couldn’t read and so his classmates were rising to the occasion to read to him so that he could get his homework done – which is just beautiful to me, but also highlights the tragedy of how we are failing. So, so many New Yorkers, especially in under-resourced communities, especially Black and Brown New Yorkers.
Do your kids realize their mom is such a powerhouse? Do they push you to achieve more and continue to be an inspiration?
My kids and the kids in our neighborhood and community are undoubtedly the inspiration that keeps me going when the days feel long and the challenges seem insurmountable. Not long ago I ran for District Attorney, which was a grueling but incredibly moving experience. On election night, after I called my opponent to concede the election and offer him my congratulations, I went home and my son was asleep in my bed. I was crying and it woke him up. He asked what was wrong and I told him that I hadn’t won. And I thought, in that moment, I can either pull it together and put on a brave face for him or I can acknowledge that I tried something really hard and it didn’t work out the way I had hoped and planned. I chose the latter. And he remembers that moment very distinctly.
I think that the vulnerability of leadership is critical, both in a professional context and in a parenting context. And that’s something that I really carry with me, that I feel proud of, that I feel trying hard at things matters. And that success comes in many different forms.
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You’re a native New Yorker! What are some of your favorite things to do with your family around the city?
I could go on about this forever because I love New York City! I also have grown to really love New York State so I make two lists. In New York City, we love Coney Island. We love the boardwalk and we even love it there in the winter. We did the Polar Bear Plunge this year which was a totally wild experience and an absolute hoot. My daughter was the bravest of the four of us. She was the first one in the water! It makes me so proud that I have a daughter who will just barrel into the freezing cold waves on New Year’s Day.
We are major theater-goers; we love to go to theater on and off Broadway. I took my eight-year-old son to his first rock and roll concert this week. We went to see Bruce Springsteen at the Barclays Center, which was really awesome. We are an interfaith household, meaning I’m a Mets fan and my partner Scott is a Yankees fan, so we go to the Subway Series every year. In fact this year the entire Office of the Inspector General will be going to the Subway Series so I’m excited about that. I love New York City’s parks. We spend a lot of time in Morningside Park, in Marcus Garvey Park and in other uptown parks. I also have visited every beach in New York City and love them all for different reasons, but I would say that Far Rockaway is really our go-to favorite family beach.
And then New York State is just such a wealth of beautiful places for families to visit! The Thousand Island region has beautiful pebble beaches. In the parks across the state, the hiking and waterfalls are just extraordinary. I love New York bridges, so the Walkway Over the Hudson is a nice long family walk across and back. There also are so many fantastic farms and farm stands across upstate New York. In fact, one of the coolest things about this job has been getting to know the North Country and Western New York and beyond, and it has been such a privilege getting to talk to New Yorkers who are very, very different from New York City residents. Learning about the diversity of New York State has been really remarkable and inspiring.
What is your connection to the Moynihan Train Hall?
We have a very broad mandate at the Inspector General’s office. I serve as New York State Inspector General, in which role I have jurisdiction over the state executive agencies and authorities, and that has included oversight of major infrastructure projects like the Javits Center, the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge and the Moynihan Train Hall.
I love so many things about New York, but we chose the Moynihan Train Hall as a place to take some pictures for the magazine in part because our office worked to make sure that the contracts were fair, appropriately executed and all of the relevant state laws were followed in the building of what is now a really beautiful train hall. And it is particularly important to me because, post COVID, the first proper trip that my family took was a train trip in which we left from Moynihan station. It’s a place that connects New York to itself and it connects New York to the rest of the country, and it really is such a vibrant part of the city. And so I certainly encourage New York families to take advantage of the state’s infrastructure system, train systems, public transportation systems, and to enjoy Moynihan and other infrastructure projects the state has invested in.
Let’s talk about March On. What inspired you to write it? What is it about?
March On is a children’s book about the 1915 women’s march down Fifth Avenue, at the time the largest march in the city’s history. Seeing that the centennial of suffrage was coming up, my sister and I, who are nine years apart, started talking about collaborating on a project that would give kids an accessible way to learn about the hundred years since suffrage and all the work that went into achieving the vote for women. My sister, who is an extraordinary artist and children’s art educator, did the illustrations, and I wrote the text.
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What are some ways you protect New York families in your position as Inspector General?
When I think about protecting vulnerable New York families, I think about our work with the State Department of Social Services and protecting SNAP benefits to make sure that folks have access to a fair system that functions the way it’s supposed to. I also think about the work we have been doing around unemployment insurance, to which during and post-pandemic there has been a tremendous amount of fraud committed – which is really coming at a cost to New Yorkers who need unemployment insurance and for whom the system was designed to help during a crisis time like the pandemic. So we’re particularly committed to rooting out corruption and fraud in those areas, because we know that they are of the utmost importance to New York families who are suffering, at a disadvantage or otherwise vulnerable.
I serve as the State Welfare Inspector General and Workers Compensation Fraud Inspector General; both workers compensation and welfare are critical social safety net systems that are designed to support New Yorkers when they most need help. The touchstone that we use in prioritizing cases that come to us in that capacity is to pursue cases against the greedy rather than the needy. That is very much because we know that New York families have to be able to rely on those systems when they are going through hard times. The worst of the worst cases are when people take massive advantage of those systems and make them less accessible to families who need them. We also oversee the Office of Children and Family Services. As we do with all state agencies, we work hard to be on the ground, getting to know the facilities, identifying problems and gaps and helping support those systems in doing the supportive services that New Yorkers rely on.
I also have worked closely with the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence to ensure that state agencies are following necessary protocols to protect state employees from domestic violence and to give people access to resources when they are suffering from intimate partner and domestic violence. And that is really a kind of core commitment on our office’s part.