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De Blasio stays on Bloomberg's public health course

(L-R) Rose Pierre-Louis is named to the Mayor's

(L-R) Rose Pierre-Louis is named to the Mayor's Office to Combat Domestic Violence by Mayor Bill de Blasio. (Jan. 16, 2013) Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday he would press forward with many of Michael Bloomberg's health initiatives, including a proposed ban on large sugary drinks, but pledged to solicit the views of the public to defuse the "nanny state" rap leveled at his predecessor.

"I've for a long time felt the core impulse of the previous administration when it came to public health is correct . . . but oftentimes, community residents will tell you there's a better way to do it," he said at City Hall, where he named Dr. Mary Bassett to be commissioner of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Bassett, 61, director of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation's African health initiative, served as a deputy health commissioner under Bloomberg.

She said the city would continue the Bloomberg administration's requirement of consent forms for the ultra-Orthodox Jewish circumcision ritual known as metzitzah b'peh -- in which blood is orally removed from the incision -- rather than ban the practice outright.

Alternatives to the consent form will be considered, said de Blasio, who during last year's campaign was noncommittal on demands from that community to rescind the Bloomberg rules.

As de Blasio worked to fill key administration positions, a Quinnipiac University poll Thursday showed voters are, by a 3-to-1 ratio, optimistic about the next four years under his leadership.

But voters are not completely in line with his agenda. Only 27 percent said de Blasio's wife, Chirlane McCray, whom he calls his most trusted adviser, should have a major role in shaping policy, and 61 percent disagreed with his proposal to ban Central Park's horse-drawn carriages.

Asked what his top priority should be, 20 percent replied education, 15 percent transportation, 13 percent jobs and 1 percent prekindergarten.

Bassett said the administration's fight against economic inequality would play out in the public health arena. "There is no such thing as a ZIP code in our genetic code," she said.

Bloomberg had appealed a court decision striking down his plan to ban many sales of sugary drinks bigger than 16 ounces to combat obesity. De Blasio indicated he would continue that battle, saying, "We feel strongly about our legal position."

The mayor said he also would continue issuing letter grades for restaurant sanitation and called graphic subway ads warning about the health consequences of smoking and other activities "effective." He insisted, however, that his administration would work harder toward community "buy-in."

De Blasio Thursday also named Rose Pierre-Louis, 49, former Manhattan deputy borough president, as commissioner of the Mayor's Office to Combat Domestic Violence.