Betty Lugo, a former assistant district attorney in Nassau County and the founder of the first Latina-owned law firm, wants to bring true diversity to the Queens District Attorney’s Office as the champion of victims of domestic violence.
If elected as the next district attorney she would be the first woman and Latina to hold the office in Queens.
“We need diversity in this country and we need diversity in Queens,” said Lugo who is Puerto Rican-American. “It’s not just saying the label. I was born in Elmhurst and grew up in Bed-Stuy with blacks, Jews and Italians and everybody was sometimes fighting, but there was also something in common, education, family and the safety of the neighborhood. That’s what makes people come together.”
If she becomes district attorney she wants her Assistant District Attorney’s (ADAs) to be familiar with the community they work in by volunteering in impoverished areas so they would understand the people who they are prosecuting.
“I think it is important for someone to understand the culture and the people that they are serving,” said Lugo. “I propose at the DA office that every ADA and every staff member have some relationship with a lesser fortunate community that is suffering, maybe we should also have a Boys & Girls Club, but I need them to do some community service while working for this office, be active in their church and be active in a community group.”
The Maspeth resident believes her time in the diverse Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Central Brooklyn in the 1970s helped her in understanding the communities that she prosecuted during her time as an ADA.
“I go to the people, I teach myself and I learn about the community,” said Lugo. “Sometimes people want to stay insular and they don’t want to go out of their shell, but it’s important to show this is a community DA’s office.”
Lugo wants to fashion a DA’s office that is truly representative of Queens.
“I would have two units, one community-oriented with all the religious and faith-based leaders and one with every ethnic group represented and everybody would have to speak one other language so that if a crime happens we don’t need to go and get an interpreter who needs to understand the culture.”
Lugo credits her mother who grew up with little education in a rural farming region in Puerto Rico as the oldest of twelve siblings for making her the person she is today.
“She’s from the center of the island and she was a descendant of warriors, my great-grandmother was a Taino Indian,” said Lugo. “My grandfather was from the Canary Islands. My mother was very poor and didn’t have shoes until she was 15, and at the age of four my grandfather took her out of school to help raise the other kids.”
After being physically abused by Lugo’s grandfather, her mother ran away to a poorer region in Puerto Rico and lived with a cousin until she met Lugo’s dad, a Korean War veteran. They came to the United States in the late 1950s with Lugo, the youngest of six, in the womb.
While in New York her dad fixed appliances and her mother assembled clothes from home.
“When I was five my mother was raising us alone because my father used to beat her and he went back to Puerto Rico,” said Lugo. “She raised us by herself and we would help her do piece work.”
Despite raising six kids on her own with little education and speaking little English, Lugo’s mother opened up a small variety store, which led to Lugo’s friendship with now Assemblywoman Latrice Walker (D-Brooklyn) and former Assemblyman Darryl Towns (D-Brooklyn).
“My mother started becoming active in the community and offered advice to the factory workers there,” said Lugo. “She would say that if you needed a translator ‘take my daughter.'”
Lugo translated official documents for her neighbors who needed help at the unemployment, immigration, welfare or motor vehicles department.
“I felt like I wasn’t just translating for them, but that I was helping them,” said Lugo. “I would end up advocating for them and that’s when I decided to become a lawyer.”
Her mother has since passed away, but her memory stays with her and that is why she wants to rev up the Integrated Domestic Violence Courts.
“I’m going to be looking for more sources that fund domestic violence programs,” said Lugo. “I don’t think the existing programs are satisfactory, especially in Queens.”
Lugo has received approximately 9,800 signatures to be on the ballot for the primary, which is June 25. She also has over 30 endorsements, including one from Walker and retired Judge Luis A. Gonzalez.
“I would be the first Latina DA in the northeast, but I am also the most qualified for the position. It’s about making history, it’s about doing the right thing, I’m not a politician, but I’m a person that wants to help people.”