The Closing: Alicia Glen

The deputy mayor on growing up in a Woody Allen movie, the Albany ‘schlep’ and being politically correct

Sep.September 01, 2015 07:00 AM

Alicia Glen

As deputy mayor for economic development, Alicia Glen oversees more than 40 city agencies and authorities. The former Goldman Sachs executive is tasked with executing the de Blasio administration’s goal of creating or preserving 200,000 affordable housing units by 2025 — a goal that reached a major milestone in July, when the city announced that it had already hit 20,000 units at a cost of $618 million. A lifelong New Yorker, Glen comes from a family steeped in the public sector: Her father was an attorney for the city under the Koch administration, her mother was a state Supreme Court judge, and her stepmother once led the Department of City Planning. Glen, who graduated from Amherst College and Columbia Law School, worked for Brooklyn Legal Services before joining the mega law firm Fulbright & Jaworski. She later served as the assistant commissioner for housing finance under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Prior to assuming her current post in 2014, Glen ran Goldman’s Urban Investment Group, which invests in housing in low-income areas.

Name: Alicia Kenyon Glen
Born: July 19, 1966 
Hometown: Manhattan
Marital status: Married 20 years
Children: Two daughters

Where does your name come from?

My mother’s favorite middle school teacher was Alicia Kenyon. It’s nice to be named after somebody who inspired your mother. Though it’s not as great as being named, like, Eleanor Roosevelt.

Growing up, what did you want to be?

When I was 6 or 7 years old, I announced to my parents that I wanted to be the Sanitation Commissioner. I don’t know if this shows great promise or if it’s a weird thing for a 7-year-old to say.

What was it like to grow up on the Upper West Side?

I was really quite aware of my urban environment. I went to P.S. 84, at a time when there were not a lot of upper-middle-class white kids at P.S. 84. In fact, I was the only one in my class in one grade. I lived on Central Park West and next door was a building in city ownership, in the middle of the block was rent-stabilized housing and at the end was a Mitchell-Lama building and public housing project. I was aware that New York was an incredibly diverse, uneven, exciting little ecosystem.

Did your parents’ work in the public sector impact you?

Oh, absolutely. I didn’t even know what an investment banker was until about 10 years before I went to work for one. I thought everybody worked for city government, or was a lawyer, civil rights activist, midwife or writer. It was like a Woody Allen movie.

How did you end up at Brooklyn Legal Services?

My father and stepmom both worked in legal services, so I knew it was incredibly important. It was on the front lines. It was also fun. While my law school friends were up all night reading documents on cases nobody cared about, I was doing trials and making a difference in people’s lives.

You later went to a law firm and then Goldman. What did you like about the private sector?

They always had Fresca in the fridge and there were much better snacks. There wasn’t so much process and bureaucracy. The ability to make a decision, get things done and throw a ton of resources at it is an extraordinary gift.

Do you miss that?

It’s not that I miss it, it’s just a different approach. In the public sector, you have many more constituents. You have to bring a lot more people into the tent. It’s a lot more herding cats. In the private sector, if you want to do something and you have the money, if it’s not against the law, you can do it.

Do you love or hate the politicking that’s part of the job?

It depends on the day. I mean, there is the ever-present discussion around how we get people to buy into what we’re trying to do. Are there days when I think, ‘I cannot believe I have to schlep up to Albany and deal with this?’ Of course. But the majority of the politicking is actually informing our work.

The real estate industry is tough. Who’s been an ally?

The real estate crew is a tough crew. People are passionate, because you’re not just trading widgets on a screen. But I think we have developed a positive and collaborative relationship, much to the [industry’s] surprise.

What’s been your strategy?

I’m an aggressive person. I want to get a lot done and I think they’ve responded [to that]. Time is money and indecision drives people crazy. No matter what I’ve ever been accused of, I’ve never been accused of not being prepared to make a decision.

What’s the best advice you’ve received?

Life is long. Most people think life is short, so they have a vision of what they want to be when they grow up and then they’re like gerbils in a wheel. At Goldman, they used to joke, ‘You’re the only person who’s been a tenant organizer and this and that, who’s a managing director running a $3 billion business, who’s a well known lefty.’ I worry that kids today are so focused on becoming a partner at a law firm, [they’ll] miss all the twists and turns that create amazing opportunities.

How do you unwind? Do you have hobbies?

Unwinding generally revolves around a bottle of wine, let’s be honest. I [also] try to be outdoors as much as I can. I have a house in upstate New York. A bottle of wine and a nice hike, there’s nothing better. You hike first, then have the bottle of wine.

Do you ever get tired of being politically correct?

I may be accused of not saying the politically correct thing enough. I’m known as someone who pretty much speaks her mind and doesn’t try to play the game. If I say something that’s deemed politically correct, it’s because it’s correct.

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