New Health Commissioner to Continue ‘Nanny State’ Policies

Bill de Blasio announcing his new health commissioner.

Bill de Blasio announcing his new health commissioner.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and his new health commissioner today vowed to continue former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s controversial health policies, which many critics panned as overreaching, “nanny state” governing.

Mr. de Blasio’s new health commissioner, Mary Bassett, previous served as Mr. Bloomberg’s deputy health commissioner, where she was “one of the architects” of the city’s efforts to ban smoking in bars and restaurants, eliminate trans fats and post calorie counts at chain restaurants, Mr. de Blasio said.

Ms. Bassett, whose hiring was unveiled at a City Hall event this afternoon, was asked today whether she planned to continue that approach.

“You’re talking about the nanny state?” she interjected as a reporter described the criticisms leveled against the Bloomberg administration.

“I view it as an obligation and a responsibility of government to ensure that people have the opportunity to make healthier choices,” explained Ms. Bassett, who said efforts like the trans fat ban and smoke-free regulations were in support of that mission and “helped people have healthier choices.”

Still, she and the new mayor said they planned to use a friendlier, more community-focused approach to implement their goals.

“At the same time,” she added, “of course, people have the right to express their concerns and have their legitimate concerns addressed … The fact is that we need to engage better with communities as well as continue to use these very powerful tools of public health.”

Mr. de Blasio was a staunch critic of Mr. Bloomberg during his campaign but said repeatedly that one of the few areas where he agreed with his predecessor was public health. During the Democratic primary, Mr. de Blasio was one of the only candidates to defend Mr. Bloomberg’s efforts to regulate the sale of large sugary sodas in restaurants and movie theaters, and has vowed to continue to fight the lawsuit that blocked the city from implementing the plan.

“I think the Bloomberg administration was right on that issue,” he said today, arguing that it’s tough to win “the battle against sugary drinks.” “I thought we needed to help parents to fight back.”

Mr. de Blasio later said that Mr. Bloomberg’s “core template” was “a very good one” but that he’d take a different approach to implementation.

“We have to do a better job of communicating with communities all over the city,” he said when pressed on those differences. “This is not top-down. This is something we will do with the people of neighborhoods all over the city.”

“There’s a lot of things we need to do but we’re going to do it from the grassroots up,” he added.”I think that’s going to be the profound difference.”