A career New York City bureaucrat, Benepe was Commissioner of the Department of Parks and Recreation until he stepped down in 2012 to join a national conservation group.
Benepe is the son of Barry Benepe, an urban anthropologist who later founded the Greenmarket outdoor food market program. The younger Benepe's interest in the city's parks dates back to his teenage years on the Upper West Side: He worked as a Parks volunteer collecting trash, and spent the summer of '76 working as a pushcart vendor in Central Park. After toying with a career in journalism—he attended Columbia's journalism school—Benepe ventured back into Central Park when he took a job with the Urban Park Rangers. Following a stint at the Bronx Botanical Gardens, he worked at the Municipal Arts Society before Mayor Bloomberg appointed him Parks commish in 2002.
Benepe was responsible for some 28,000 acres of parkland and 14 miles of beaches in the city. He also oversaw the city's playgrounds, public pools, stadiums (Yankee and Shea) as well as the city's historic houses and statues. It was a huge responsibility—the department's budget is more than $1 billion and it has more than 10,000 employees—and after a decade at the post he left for the private sector with the Trust for Public Land.