Benita Law-Diao — a licensed dietician, activist and avid hiker — could make history as the Adirondack Park Agency’s first Black board member if her nomination is confirmed by the state Senate.
Gov. Kathy Hochul recommended Law-Diao to the state Senate Finance Committee, which approved her nomination — along with board member Art Lussi’s reappointment — at its virtual board meeting on Tuesday. The two nominees will now move to the state Senate floor for final confirmation, according to committee Chair Liz Kreuger.
Law-Diao went to graduate school at Cornell University, and she recently retired from her job as a public health nutritionist with the state Department of Health — a job that often brought her to the Adirondacks. She’s been a leader with the nonprofit organization Outdoor Afro, which promotes diversity and inclusion in outdoor recreation. Currently, Law-Diao is on the John Brown Lives! Board, which promotes social justice and human rights on behalf of the John Brown Farm in Lake Placid, and the Adirondack Experience museum’s board of trustees.
John Brown Lives! Executive Director Martha Swan — who said she’s worked with Law-Diao for three or four years through the organization — said she’s “thrilled” about Law-Diao’s nomination. As the head of the John Brown program committee, Swan said Law-Diao has brought in new projects, new events and helped the organization form connections with new audiences. Swan thought Law-Diao would bring that same reinvigoration to the APA board. Law-Diao is thorough, dedicated, “does her homework” and makes meaningful connections with people, according to Swan.
“I think she’s a communicator,” Swan said, “(in) that she expresses herself very well but she also listens very well, and brings a wealth of experience over a lifetime as a person on the planet, as a person working in the public health sphere, as an outdoors woman, as a Black woman — she brings a tremendous capacity to listen and absorb, and then also … give back.”
Adirondack green groups — including Adirondack Council and Adirondack Wild — are also applauding Law-Diao’s nomination.
“Her experience in the public sector, as well as with Outdoor Afro and John Brown Lives!, shows that she will bring a deep understanding of the Adirondack Park to one of the outside the park board seats,” Adirondack Council Executive Director William Janeway said in a statement. “Benita understands the challenges facing the Adirondack Park, but can provide a new perspective and view as we all work to make the park more diverse and welcoming to all New Yorkers.”
Law-Diao would be one of three APA members authorized by law to live outside the boundaries of the Adirondack Park, according a news release from Adirondack Wild. Five APA members are required to live within the Park. Law-Diao lives in the Capital Region; agency Chair John Ernst and board member Kenneth Lynch also live outside the park.
Adirondack Wild Managing Partner David Gibson thought that Law-Diao’s close ties to the park, along with her science-based professional background, would be an asset for the board when it comes to park planning and resource analysis and protection.
“Benita Law-Diao knows the Adirondack Park region very well, serves on Adirondack-based boards like John Brown Lives!, teaches and mentors others, and recreates frequently in the Park’s woods, waters and mountains,” said Gibson.
Law-Diao would be filling the board seat left vacant when Chad Dawson resigned in 2020, according to APA Public Information Officer Keith McKeever.
“The Adirondack Park Agency is thrilled to welcome Benita Law-Diao to the agency board,” Ernst said in a statement. “Her professional and personal experiences will bring an important perspective to the deliberations and work of the park agency … The agency looks forward to working closely with Benita.”
Lussi, whose reappointment to the agency board was confirmed along with Law-Diao’s nomination, was serving on a term that expired this past June. Ernst’s term expired at the same time, but he wasn’t put up for reappointment along with Lussi on Tuesday. McKeever said on Wednesday that Ernst’s confirmation is scheduled for next week. He said Ernst wasn’t confirmed earlier because of scheduling issues with the Senate.