De Blasio submits names for health board

By Dan Goldberg (Capital NY)
May 18, 2015

Mayor Bill de Blasio has submitted the names of three new candidates to serve on the city's Board of Health, a move that could help him hold up his end of a deal with Orthodox rabbis to repeal a consent-form requirement for a controversial circumcision rite.

The mayor has nominated Dr. Rosa Gil, who served as a health policy advisor to former mayor Rudy Giuliani and is now president and C.E.O. of Comunilife; Karen Redlener, executive director of Community Pediatric Programs at Montefiore; and Dr. Ram Raju, president and C.E.O. of Health and Hospitals Corporation, according to an administration official.

The three will fill one vacant seat, and replace Dr. Marlon Brewer, who had served on the board since 2006, and Dr. Bruce Vladeck, who served since 2002, the administration official said.

Should these new candidates be approved, it will give the mayor five appointees on the 11-member board, which had been stacked with holdovers from the Bloomberg administration.

That, for the most part, had not been a concern for de Blasio because his health policies and goals dovetailed with those of the Bloomberg board. (De Blasio's health commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett served under Bloomberg as well.)

That changed recently when de Blasio reached a deal with certain members of the Orthodox community to abandon the requirement that parents sign a consent form before a mohel performs metzitzah b'peh, a ritual that involves the mohel orally suctioning blood from the circumcision wound on a baby's penis. But de Blasio can't repeal the consent forms on his own. He needs the board of health to do that.

The city's health department has said for years that the practice was linked to neonatal herpes, and has tried to dissuade parents from allowing the ritual.

Some of the Bloomberg appointees thought the consent forms did not go far enough, and it was never certain de Blasio had the votes to overturn the policy. The board was scheduled to vote on the issue in March but the item was pulled from the agenda because terms of the agreement had not yet been finalized, according to the city's health department.

In exchange for abandoning the consent forms, which were hard to enforce, the coalition of rabbis negotiating with City Hall agreed that if a baby is diagnosed with H.S.V.-1, the community would identify the mohel who performed the bris, or circumcision, and ask him to undergo testing. If the mohel tests positive for H.S.V.-1, the city's health department will test the DNA of the herpes strain to see if it matches the infant's. If it does, the mohel will be banned from performing the ritual for life.

Pam Brier, a Bloomberg holdover, told Capital she supports de Blasio's compromise, as does Bassett, the city's health commissioner. In March, de Blasio appointed Gail Nayowith to the board. If the four de Blasio appointees were to vote with Brier and Bassett, the mayor would have enough support to repeal the consent forms.

The City Council is expected to vote on the nominees on May 27.

The board's next meeting is scheduled for June 10.