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New York Times
Sencer Resigns Health Post to Work on Project in Oman
David Bird
December 5, 1985
The City Health Commmissioner, Dr. David J. Sencer, has resignedto work in the Middle East on a health project in Oman, MayorKoch announced yesterday.

Dr. Sencer said he was leaving "strictly at my own volition" towork overseas. Mr. Koch said that Dr. Sencer had "performedbrilliantly" and that he was sorry to see him go.

According to mayoral aides, it was Dr. Sencer's choice to resign,and the Mayor, in part because the job is a difficult one tofill, did not want him to leave. However, the Commissioner'stenure has not been without controversy.

Disputes on AIDS Strategy

He had been involved recently in disputes with state healthauthorities and law enforcement officials on strategies to haltthe apread of the disease AIDS.

He had disagreed with the State Health Commissioner, Dr. DavidAxelrod, on the closing of homosexual bathhouses to control thedisease.

Dr. Sencer said that instead of controlling AIDS, closing thebathhouses could actually contribute to spreading the diseasebecause it would make it harder to reach homosexuals and educatethem on how to engage in safer sexual practices.

At a City Hall news conference yesterday at which he praised Dr.Sencer, Mayor Koch said there had been disagreements between himand the Health Commissioner. But the Mayor said he appreciatedDr. Sencer's speaking his mind.

On the closing of bathhouses, the Mayor said he weighed theadvice of both Dr. Axelrod and Dr. Sencer and decided on what hesaid was the more "conservative" advice of the State HealthCommissioner.

Dr. Sencer also said the greatest danger of spreading AIDS camefrom drug addicts sharing needles to inject heroin. He advocatedsupplying clean needles free to addicts.

The suggestion drew sharp responses from law enforcementauthorities, who said it would amount to condoning drugaddiction. Opponents also said that even if the clean needleswere supplied addicts would not use them because there was atradition of passing the needle from one person to another in theso-called "shooting galleries" where addicts gathered to injectheroin.

But the Mayor denied that the controversy over AIDS strategieshad anything to do with Dr. Sencer's departure.

Dr. Sencer had written to the Mayor on Nov. 1 saying he wanted toleave to take up his work in Oman. The Mayor said he had askedDr. Sencer to delay announcing his resignation until this monthto provide time to begin the process of finding a successor.

Appointed in '81

A former director of the Federal Centers for Disease Control, Dr.Sencer was appointed to his current post in 1981 at a time whenboth he and the Mayor agreed that the city's Health Departmenthad slipped badly in recent years from its position as thecountry's leading local health agency.

In a letter to Dr. Sencer the Mayor said that "I am trulysaddened by your leaving."

Dr. Sencer, who is 61 years old, said he would be working ondeveloping a five-year plan to improve child health in Oman.

Dr. Sencer said he would stay on until Jan. 3 and would help theMayor in the search for a new commissioner.