Bill de Blasio to Name Mary Bassett Health Commissioner

After hitting the pause button on hires for the past week or so, Mayor Bill de Blasio will roll out

Mary Bassett. (Photo: Columbia University School of Public Health)
Mary Bassett. (Columbia University School of Public Health)

After hitting the pause button on hires for the past week or so, Mayor Bill de Blasio will roll out at least one new administrative appointee today.

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Mary Bassett, an associate professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, is set to be named the city’s new health commissioner, according to a source familiar with the matter.

According to one online bio, Ms. Bassett was previously a deputy commissioner at the New York City Health Department, “where she oversaw programs that addressed noncommunicable disease and maternal and child health, as well as the district public health offices based in Harlem, central Brooklyn and the Bronx.”

She was also described as the director of the African Health Initiative at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, “an effort that focuses on strengthening health systems in projects underway in Ghana, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia.”

Ms. Bassett replaces Thomas Farley, who became one of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s most high-profile commissioners through his embrace of a litany of controversial public health initiatives, from the so-called “soda ban” to restrictions on public smoking.

Additionally, Mr. de Blasio will name Rose Pierre-Louis to lead the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence.

Additional reporting by Jill Colvin.

Update (2:50 p.m.): Here is the full press release unveiling the hires: 


Dr. Mary Bassett to Lead Health Department, Rose Pierre-Louis to Lead Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence

New York, NY – Mayor Bill de Blasio named two key leaders to his administration today who will enact an ambitious public health and safety agenda. Mayor de Blasio named Dr. Mary Bassett as Commissioner of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Rose Pierre-Louis as Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence.

With the announcement, Mayor de Blasio affirmed his commitment to protect community health care, strengthen the city’s public hospitals, expand clinics in underserved neighborhoods, and make City government more responsive and proactive in protecting victims of domestic violence.

“Protecting the health and safety of New Yorkers is our No.1 priority. We have built a progressive and diverse team committed to reaching every neighborhood and caring for its people—including its most vulnerable,” said Mayor de Blasio. “Dr. Bassett and Ms. Pierre-Louis have the decades of experience and the deep commitment to public service needed to take on that sacred charge.”

As Commissioner of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Dr. Mary Bassett will pursue bold, progressive public health policies that take on epidemics like diabetes and traffic-related injuries and fatalities. She will work in partnership with other city agencies to address the growing crisis facing community health institutions.

“We don’t believe in a back-seat approach to protecting public health. We will be aggressive and innovative in tackling today’s epidemics. Whether it is protecting a community facing the loss of a hospital, or ensuring that all neighborhoods enable healthy choices as people eat, work and play, we will meet New Yorkers where they live and ensure their health—both mental and physical—is protected,” said incoming Health Commissioner Mary Bassett.

A respected advocate for victims of domestic violence and a pillar of the Haitian-American community, Rose Pierre-Louis has fought for women and families for more than two decades. As Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, she will make city government more responsive in safeguarding victims, and spearhead city efforts to prevent and fully report acts of domestic violence.

“I have dedicated my life to fighting for the safety of women and families going through the deepest crises any of us could ever face. What I’ve learned is that each of us has a role to play in preventing violence, reporting it, and helping victims through it. Our mission is to leave no family behind, and put the full weight of city government in the corner of our must vulnerable residents. I’m honored to take on this responsibility,” said incoming Commissioner Rose Pierre-Louis of the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence.

About Dr. Mary Bassett:

Dr. Mary Bassett has dedicated her career to health advocacy, with more than 30 years of experience in hospitals and at non-profits.

After Dr. Bassett received her MD, she moved to Harare, Zimbabwe, where she was served on the medical faculty at the University of Zimbabwe. She spent 17 years in Zimbabwe, consulting for nonprofits including UNICEF and the World Bank. She was also the Associate Director of Health Equity at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Southern Africa Office.

In 2002, she was appointed Deputy Commissioner of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, where she oversaw campaigns banning smoking and trans fats in restaurants, and requiring restaurants to post calorie counts. She also helped establish the District Public Health Offices (DPHOs) in East and Central Harlem, the South Bronx, and North and Central Brooklyn to lead targeted strategies in health and communication in these communities. Each DPHO is led by a physician, and the programs include home visiting programs, free exercise programs, and meetings with area doctors to improve care and advance health-promotion policies with local coalitions.

Most recently, she has served as Program Director for the African Health Initiative and the Child Abuse Prevention Program at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, focusing on strengthening health systems in projects in Ghana, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia.

Dr. Bassett grew up in New York City, received her B.A. in History and Science from Harvard, and her M.D. from Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. She was a Resident at Harlem Hospital Center and also has a Masters’ in Public Health from University of Washington.

About Rose Pierre-Louis:

Rose Pierre-Louis has led a distinguished career advocating for low-income women and the city’s most vulnerable families.

Early in her career at Queens Legal Services, she developed workshops aimed at empowering victims of domestic violence to obtain a divorce from their abusers without having to wait for an attorney. She went on to hold leadership positions at Network for Women’s Services, Sanctuary for Families, and Harlem Legal Services, where she led the domestic violence unit. Most recently, she served as Deputy Borough President for Manhattan.

Pierre-Louis’ record of leadership in advocating for women goes beyond her professional activities. She was appointed to serve on the Matrimonial Commission in 2004, responsible for reviewing all aspects of matrimonial litigation and making recommendations for improving the State’s Family and Supreme Courts procedures governing such litigation. She is the founding member and former Chair of the African American Task Force on Violence against Women and the Women’s Alliance of Harlem, and also a former Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors of the New York Women’s Foundation. She has also served as an adjunct Professor at Fordham University School of Law for six years and is a frequent lecturer on domestic violence and the law.

Pierre-Louis is also a recognized leader in the Haitian community, helping found and lead the Haitian Roundtable, a non-profit devoted to raising the profile of Haiti and supporting Haitian-American professionals. In 2010, following the devastating earthquake in Haiti, she was appointed by then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to serve on the five-member delegation representing the United States at the United Nations Haiti Donor Pre-Conference in Martinique, West Indies.

Bill de Blasio to Name Mary Bassett Health Commissioner