Veronica White, the founding executive director of New York’s poverty-fighting Center for Economic Opportunity, was appointed parks commissioner by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
White, 53, will replace Adrian Benepe, who has headed the department for the past 10 years. He is leaving to join the San Francisco-based Trust for Public Land, the mayor said today in a statement.
Under Benepe, 55, the department added 730 acres to the system and was planning 2,000 acres of new parkland at Fresh Kills, a former landfill on Staten Island. Since 2002, the city has budgeted $4.5 billion for building new parks and renovating existing ones, $3 billion of which has already been spent, the mayor’s office said.
“Adrian Benepe has done extraordinary work as parks commissioner, leading transformative changes in every corner of New York City,” Bloomberg said in an e-mail.
The Parks & Recreation Department controls about 29,000 acres ranging from the Coney Island boardwalk to Central Park to community gardens, including 550 tennis courts, 66 pools, 50 recreational facilities, 17 nature centers, 14 miles of beaches and 13 golf courses. It has a proposed 2013 operating budget of about $305 million, about $66 million less than last year. Plans also call for $339 million in capital spending.
White is a Harvard Law School graduate with a master’s degree from Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Appointed in 2006, she runs an office that implements experimental antipoverty programs, some with private funding. Five of the center’s programs have been copied by other cities, Bloomberg said, including job training and “conditional cash transfers” to families as incentives to take better care of their health and improve school attendance and performance.
The office won a February award for innovation from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Benepe’s new job, which begins in September, will be to replicate programs he implemented for the city for the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit land-conservation organization that helps create and preserve parks and open space, Bloomberg said.
The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.