Veronica M. White: Who Is The New Parks and Recreation Commissioner?


Yesterday, the Voice reported on Parks and Rec Commissioner Adrian Benepe’s resignation.

Benepe’s legacy is a polarizing one: His decade-long tenure is marked by tremendous expansion of the city’s greenspaces, but also characterized by controversial policies barring artists and performers from parks, as well as pushes for private fundraising. Many also felt that Benepe fostered a corporate culture at the city’s parks — and might have threatened their vibe as public spaces open to all.

That said, there’s a lot at stake with his replacement, Veronica M. White.

White now heads up the Center for Economic Opportunity, a Bloomberg-backed anti-poverty lab she founded in 2006, which has an annual budget of $100 million. The Center has conducted experimental welfare efforts, such as paying low income individuals to go to parent-teacher conferences.

But who is she, exactly?

For starters, White got a law degree from Harvard, and then got her master’s from Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, according to Bloomberg.

Before heading up CEO, White worked as a consultant in “strategic business planning and management for non-profits, real estate development and environmental issues, and public-private partnerships.”

She has held a handful of exec roles, such as the chief operating officer of the New York City Partnership and president and CEO of New York City Housing Partnership as well as deputy commissioner of planning, policy and intergovernmental affairs at the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

White has also worked as a lawyer at Brown & Wood and Sidley & Austin.

As founding exec of CEO, she rolled out programs such as Opportunity NYC, the first conditional cash transfer program in the country.

The organization also pitched an alternative measure for federal poverty standards, which influenced the U.S. Census’ bureau’s development of a Supplemental Poverty Measure. A federal social innovation fund has decided to recreate five CEO programs in New York and across the U.S. Much of the CEO’s money comes from private sources.

White doesn’t appear to have experience in the Parks and Recreation realm. Some say that White will be the Cathie Black of the Department — that she was picked by Mayor Michael Bloomberg for her management experience rather than background in public spaces, according to DNAinfo.

The Mayor’s office isn’t commenting further on White’s appointment, and pointed the Voice to a statement released yesterday.

There, Bloomberg said: “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.”

Added White in that statement: “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…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.”

As we mentioned yesterday, it will be interesting to see how White’s leadership will impact ongoing Parks and Rec problems, such as the vending lawsuits facing the Department. We’ll keep you posted with any updates.