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PR- 221-12
June 18, 2012


Commissioner Benepe Oversaw Major Expansion of New York City’s Parks System and Development of New Waterfront Parks in All Five Boroughs

White Has Led the City’s Center for Economic Opportunity Since 2006, Including its Successful Fundraising Efforts; Its Programs Are Now Being Replicated in Cities Across the Country

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today appointed Veronica M. White, the founding Executive Director of New York City’s Center for Economic Opportunity, to replace Adrian Benepe as Commissioner of the Department of Parks and Recreation. Benepe has served as commissioner since January 2002 and has overseen a major expansion of City parks, as well as the largest expansion of waterfront parks in the City’s history. In September, he will begin working in a newly-created position at the Trust for Public Land, where he will be charged with replicating many of our City’s most successful initiatives on a national scale. Created by Mayor Bloomberg in 2006 to implement innovative approaches to reducing poverty in New York City, the Center for Economic Opportunity has launched 50 new programs under White’s leadership, five of which are being replicated in cities across the country through the federal Social Innovation Fund, a public-private partnership. The Mayor was joined by Deputy Mayors Patricia E. Harris and Linda Gibbs and Commissioners Benepe and White as they broke ground on more than $15 million in improvements to Soundview Park in the Bronx, one of the eight regional parks being transformed under PlaNYC. The work at Soundview Park will include the construction of a track and field with a synthetic turf soccer field, a playground, a sports court, comfort station, and outdoor amphitheater with an overlook and access path.

“When New York City leads, cities, states, and nations around the world follow. Adrian Benepe has done extraordinary work as Parks Commissioner leading transformative changes in every corner of New York City, and I couldn’t be prouder that he is going to lead the Trust for Public Land’s new initiative to replicate our work in cities across the country,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “Looking for someone with the same pioneering spirit to lead Parks didn’t take long, because many of the groundbreaking programs and studies that Veronica White has championed at our Center for Economic Opportunity are already being replicated by the federal government and cities across the country. She has an exemplary record of exploring innovative partnerships and attracting private funds. I want to thank Adrian for his many years of service to our City, and welcome Veronica to one of the greatest government jobs anywhere. I’m confident she will build on Adrian’s successes, and keep making our city parks greener and greater than ever.”

“I have been fortunate to practice public service and oversee the building and maintaining of parks during an unprecedented period of interest, investment, and inspiration,” said Commissioner Benepe. “With Mayor Bloomberg’s dedication to great public space and sustainable urban development, and First Deputy Mayor Patti Harris’s passion for excellence in design, public art, preservation, and programming, I could not have had stronger leadership and support. Similarly, the unparalleled expansion and improvement of the City’s parks system took place because of the substantial commitment and generosity of the citizen partners and volunteers, and the efforts of the professional parks staff.  I look forward to continuing my personal dedication to great public spaces and sustainable landscapes in cities across the country and here in New York.”

“I’m thrilled to pick up where Commissioner Benepe has left off and will endeavor to fulfill Mayor Bloomberg’s vision to make New York City greener and greater through its parks,” said Commissioner White. “I will bring to the Parks Department a continued commitment to innovation; a focus on maintaining the vast number of Parks’ properties including the many new investments of our administration. It has been a privilege to lead the Center for Economic Opportunity, and I thank Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs for her great leadership.”

“Under Veronica White’s leadership, the Center for Economic Opportunity designed and implemented innovative, evidence-based initiatives aimed at poverty reduction and has been honored with prestigious awards, including the 2012 the Harvard Kennedy School Innovations in American Government Award,” said Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Gibbs.  “As Veronica brings her skills to the Department of Parks and Recreation, she will be succeeded at the CEO by Kristin Morse, who has managed the CEO at Veronica’s side since the agency’s launch. We look forward to Kristin continuing to grow the agency.”

In ten and a half years as the City’s Parks Commissioner, Adrian Benepe oversaw a major expansion of New York City’s parks system, with over 730 acres of new parkland added and 2,000 more acres at Fresh Kills Park on Staten Island still to be added. Over his tenure, the Bloomberg administration budgeted $4.5 billion for building new parks and renovating existing parks, $3 billion of which has already been spent.

The Trust for Public Land is a national non-profit land conservation organization based in San Francisco. Since its founding 40 years ago, it has completed more than 5,200 park and conservation projects and conserved more than 3 million acres in 47 states, and has helped generate more than $33 billion in state and local conservation funding.

The Trust for Public Land is also the City’s lead partner in the development of New York City’s Schoolyards to Playgrounds program, the PlaNYC initiative that is helping to fulfill Mayor Bloomberg’s pledge to ensure that all New Yorkers live within a 10-minute walk of a park. The Trust led the community design process and raised millions of dollars to transform and open school facilities for the use of entire communities when classes aren’t in session.

Because of this initiative, approximately 76.5 percent of New Yorkers now live within a 10-minute walk of a park, representing an increase of 240,815 people in the past year alone. The City and the Trust have converted 214 underutilized schoolyards as part of the Schoolyards to Playground initiative since it was launched in 2007, and seven more will open this summer and fall.

In the newly created role of Senior Vice President for City Park Development, Benepe will oversee the Trust’s “Parks for People” program, which, just like Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC, seeks to ensure that “no city resident should be more than a 10-minute walk from their local park, garden or safe green place to play.” Benepe will be based at the Trust’s Lower Manhattan office and also direct their Center for City Park Excellence, which is based in Washington, D.C.

Major new parks and facilities created or completed under Benepe’s leadership include: Brooklyn Bridge Park, sections of Fresh Kills Park on Staten Island,  Manhattan’s Highline, the Yankee Stadium replacement parks in The Bronx, the West Harlem Piers Park, Bushwick Inlet Park in Brooklyn, Elmhurst Park in Queens, the Concrete Plant Park and Baretto Point Park and the floating pool in the Bronx, Icahn Track & Field Stadium and Randall’s Island Fields, the Ocean Breeze Track and Field Center under construction on Staten Island, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park Lakeside Center, and the Flushing Meadows Pool and Rink in Queens. In addition, 40 miles of Greenways in parks were created since 2002.

Since 2002, New York City has restored – or restarted stalled construction of – historic parks including Battery Park, Calvert Vaux Park, Central Park, Far Rockaway Parks, Fort Washington Park (under construction), Washington Square Park, Historic Harlem Parks, The High Bridge, Highland Park (under construction), Hudson River Park, McCarren Pool, Morningside Park, Prospect Park, Riverside Park, City Hall Park and more than 60 Bronx parks as part of the Croton Filtration mitigation project.

Benepe also helped lead the Million Trees program (through which more than 600,000 trees have already been planted) and a partnership with the National Park Service to develop a jointly managed park system in Jamaica Bay. As Commissioner, Benepe managed scores of public private partnerships for park development and management, which annually raise and spend at least $160 million in charitable donations for parks. Under his leadership Parks has worked in partnerships with hundreds of neighborhood-based park support groups, representing tens of thousands of individual volunteers, promoted programs and facilities to improve fitness and health initiatives, including the Learn to Swim program, targeting New Yorkers at risk for obesity and related diseases, and added adult exercise equipment to many parks and playgrounds. With help from PlaNYC, Parks converted scores of asphalt yards into synthetic turf fields and added night lighting to dozens of fields. Parks also revamped the offerings of food vendors and other concessions in parks to emphasize culinary diversity and healthy options.

In every borough, parks serve as open-air art exhibition space for the public to enjoy a diverse selection of public art. In 2007, the City installed 40 temporary art works in parks, playgrounds and traffic islands across the City – the most artworks ever displayed at a single time.  The Parks and Recreation Department curates the largest municipal outdoor art museum in the United States and has hosted innovative and groundbreaking exhibits like the Gates and the Waterfalls. In addition, Commissioner Benepe has presided over the growth of the Historic House Trust, which preserves 23 historic sites, with 18 operating as museums and attracting more than 700,000 annual visitors.

Prior to serving as Commissioner, Benepe was the Manhattan Borough Commissioner for the Parks Department from 1996 to 2002. He is the former Vice President for Issues and Public Affairs at the Municipal Art Society and the Director of the Annual Fund and Major Gifts for the New York Botanical Garden. Benepe’s career with the Parks Department stretches back almost forty years. His positions included Director of Art and Antiquities, Director of Natural Resources and Horticulture, Operations Coordinator and Director of Public Information; his first fulltime job in government after college was as a member of the inaugural class of the Urban Park Rangers, though he started his parks career in the summer of 1973 as a 16-year-old, cleaning parks and locker rooms as a seasonal worker.

Led by Commissioner White since its founding in 2006, the Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO) works with City agencies to design and implement evidence-based initiatives aimed at poverty reduction. Each initiative is evaluated to determine which are successfully reducing poverty and increasing self-sufficiency among New Yorkers. Under Commissioner White’s direction, CEO launched 50 new programs, including Opportunity NYC, the nation’s first conditional cash transfer program. CEO also developed an alternative to the federal poverty measure, which paved the way for the United States Census Bureau’s development of its new Supplemental Poverty Measure. Under Commissioner White’s leadership, CEO and the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City raised more than $100 million in outside funding to support the CEO’s projects. These funds are in addition to taxpayer funding and contributions from Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Under Commissioner White’s leadership, CEO has been honored with prestigious awards.  In 2011, CEO won the Citizens Budget Commission’s annual Prize for Public Service Innovation and in 2012 CEO won the Harvard University Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance Innovations in American Government Award.

In 2010, the Center was selected as a federal Social Innovation Fund intermediary. Administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service, this public-private partnership supports the replication of one or more the following five promising CEO programs in Cleveland, Ohio; Kansas City, Missouri; Memphis, Tennessee; Newark, New Jersey; San Antonio, Texas; Tulsa, Oklahoma and Youngstown, Ohio:

Family Rewards. This conditional cash transfer program builds on the success of a New York City demonstration and programs in more than 20 countries. This model provides rewards to families for achieving milestones that lead to better health, education, and employment outcomes, thereby improving human capital. Family Rewards focuses on the most promising incentives from the New York City pilot.

Jobs-Plus. The place-based Jobs-Plus program addresses entrenched poverty amongst public housing residents by saturating developments with job and career support, community building, and rent incentives. In previous experimental pilots, residents’ earnings continued to rise for three years after the program ended, greatly outpacing the income of a comparison group.

Project Rise. This education-conditioned internship program is designed to improve the long-term economic opportunities of young adults who are out of school, out of work, and who lack a high school diploma or GED. Multiple CEO programs have successfully reengaged young adults by offering short-term paid internships as a hook for returning to school or work.

SaveUSA. First piloted by the City’s Office of Financial Empowerment in 2008 as $aveNYC, this initiative offers a matched savings account to low-income tax filers. In its first year, 1,099 SaveUSA participants saved for a full year and received a match, for a total of nearly $1 million in savings.

WorkAdvance. CEO has built upon national best practices to create new workforce programs that employ sector-focused and skills-building strategies. The result has been programs that work better than any other government program in New York State. The cities are combining the best practices from these programs to create WorkAdvance, a single, cost-effective, and easy to replicate workforce intervention.

Before leading the CEO, Commissioner White was a consultant specializing in strategic business planning and management for non-profits, real estate development and environmental issues, and public-private partnerships. She was Chief Operating Officer of the New York City Partnership, President and Chief Executive Officer of the New York City Housing Partnership and Deputy Commissioner of Planning, Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs at the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development. She practiced law at the firms of Brown & Wood and Sidley & Austin and served for eight years on the New York Advisory Council of the Trust for Public Land. Commissioner White earned a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a JD from Harvard Law School. Born and raised in Brooklyn, she and her husband Victor Marrero and have two sons and live in Manhattan.

Mayor Bloomberg also announced today that Kristin Morse will succeed Commissioner White as Executive Director of the CEO. Morse has held essential positions at CEO since its early days, serving as Deputy Executive Director and Director of Program Development and Evaluation.  Morse has spent her career working on poverty issues for government and non-profits. She previously worked for the Urban Institute leading a public policy and evaluation training program for government officials and has served in various administrative and policy positions, including as a Senior Program Manager for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the Deputy Director for the New York City Partnership’s Breakthrough for Learning program, Research Director for Citizens Housing and Planning Council, Associate Director for Sanctuary for Families, and Assistant Director for the Coalition for the Homeless. Morse is the co-author with Lynne Rienner of Policy Analysis for Effective Development: Strengthening Transition Economies, which was published in 2006. She received a MS in Urban Policy Analysis from the New School and lives in Manhattan.


Stu Loeser / Julie Wood   (212) 788-2958

Vickie Karp (Parks)   (212) 360-1311


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