Gray picks CentroNia founder Otero to be D.C. deputy mayor for heath
Saturday, February 5, 2011; 2:05 AM
Beatriz "B.B." Otero, founder of CentroNia, a Columbia Heights multicultural learning center, was named the District's deputy mayor for health and human services Friday, putting her in charge of overseeing the city's most expensive cluster of agencies at a cost of more than $3 billion annually.
Otero, who built her nonprofit group from one that served 15 children in a church in 1986 to one that helps 3,000 children and has expanded to include a charter school, said she would resign from her nonprofit and from the boards of several other nonprofits, as well as Howard University Hospital's board of governors.
Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) said Friday that Otero's work with families qualified her for the position. Since taking office, Gray has revived the deputy-mayor model of government, which was scaled back under his predecessor, Adrian M. Fenty (D). While Fenty had deputies for education and for planning and economic development, Gray has an additional two - for public safety and justice and for health and human services. Otero was the last deputy mayor to be named.
In an interview, Otero said her approach would be to build "relationships, bringing people together and making sure that in every decision we make, children and families are considered first."
At a news conference Friday that drew a packed room of friends, family and people from the Latino community and social services, Gray also named five other mayoral appointees in social services, the Office of African Affairs and the Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking.
Gregory Pappas, a medical doctor and anthropologist who has worked extensively on HIV/AIDS, will serve as director of the HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, Sexually Transmitted Disease and Tuberculosis Administration - an agency long criticized for poor management that saw significant improvement in the Fenty administration.
"We're headed in a good direction, but I think we can do more and we can do better," said Pappas, who is working on a book, "Megacities and Health," to be published by the American Public Health Association. "Treatment and prevention have now merged."
Pappas, who helped develop a program that improves how black doctors talk to black men about sexually transmitted diseases, said during the news conference that the transmission of HIV/AIDS from ex-offenders "going home and infecting their loved ones" was a serious issue.
He said he wants to ensure that prisoners are taking medication during incarceration and after they are released.
Charles Thornton, named by Gray to direct the Office on Ex-Offender Affairs, said he wanted to look more closely at youths released from custody. "Right now, that is something that has [flown] under the radar somewhat," said Thornton, who for the past three years managed workforce development for Sasha Bruce Youthwork, a nonprofit that works with at-risk youths and runaways.
Meanwhile, Cedric Jennings, whose struggle from Ballou Senior High School to Brown University was chronicled in the best-selling book "A Hope in the Unseen," will oversee the mayor's Youth Advisory Council after previously running the council's Office of Youth Programs. Jennings, who also holds degrees from Harvard University and the University of Michigan, has also been a social worker with the Child and Family Services Agency.
Outside health and social services, Gray appointed Ngozi Nmezi, a Nigerian native who has a varied background in real estate and public health, as director of the Office of African Affairs.
Nmezi, Jennings, Thornton, Pappas and Otero all live in the District. Bill White, however, will relocate to the District from Mount Holly, N.J., to take over the Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking - an agency involved in recent years in the issue of whether the city has rights to the surpluses of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield.
White, who was a DISB consultant from 2003 to 2004, said, "I have some initial thoughts that I'm not going to express," adding that he needs time to assess the issue and the agency.