De Blasio Picks Health Chief, Pledges MBP Dialogue

NEW YORK -

At a press conference Thursday announcing her appointment as New York City’s next health commissioner, Mary Bassett was asked by a reporter if she intended to keep the metzitzah b’peh form the Bloomberg administration had put in place, a policy which the Orthodox community had vociferously contested on constitutional grounds.

Smiling, Mayor Bill de Blasio invited Bassett to answer the question, saying he would “jump in” afterward.

Bassett responded by noting the city’s allegations related to metzitzah b’peh, claims which spawned the litigation that is currently awaiting a court of appeals ruling.

“So the intention is to keep that in place,” Bassett said, adding merely that “we need to do a better job of listening to [the Orthodox community’s] concerns about them and better communicate it.”

Immediately, de Blasio interrupted her.

“I want to clarify,” said the mayor, “because we’ve obviously talked about this issue a lot in the last year. I’ve said we’ll keep it in place while searching for a solution that we think is more effective. I think it’s evident that because there hasn’t been the kind of dialogue necessary to get to common ground on this issue that we can do a better job of coming up with an approach that I think is much more effective at protecting the lives of our children.”

It was a subtle hint that the mayor plans to make good on a campaign promise to the Orthodox community: to come up with a better policy than the one unilaterally foisted by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The current policy requires parents to sign a form that they are aware of alleged dangers of the bris component, which many Jews consider an inherent part of the milah. That form has been the subject of a lawsuit brought by various Orthodox groups. An appeals court is expected to rule on the case later this year.

However, whichever way the court rules, de Blasio has promised a new approach, one the former city councilman representing parts of Boro Park says will be based on dialogue, not decree.

“The current approach can be better, and that’s what we’re going to figure out a way to do with the community,” he said. “Totally consistent with what I said a few moments ago: with the community.”

Health Commissioner Oversaw Big Gulp, Tobacco, Fats Bans

De Blasio’s new commissioner for the department of Health and Mental Hygiene is a former deputy commissioner in the Bloomberg administration who was charged with overseeing the mayor’s ambitious health initiatives under outgoing the commissioner, Thomas Farley.

Those policies include banning tobacco in public settings, trans fats in fast food diners, and a failed ban on large sodas in theaters.

She defended the department’s activist approach to health at a City Hall news conference Thursday, saying she believed it was important to “engage the public” on policies that will affect their lives.

In a statement announcing her appointment, de Blasio said he was charging her to pursue “bold, progressive public health policies” that take on diabetes and traffic-related fatalities.

“We don’t believe in a back-seat approach to protecting public health,” Bassett said in a statement.

De Blasio also appointed Rose Pierre-Louis as commissioner of the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence.