Dr. Richard Daines, the former state Health Commissioner who crusaded against childhood obesity and advocated for a sugar tax under Governors Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson, died unexpectedly. He was 60.
State troopers found Daines in a barn on his Duchess County property. The cause of death has not been confirmed, but he is believed to have suffered a heart attack while taking down Christmas decorations.
Daines took the lead in a number of state initiatives between 2007 and 2010, including leading an unsuccessful fight to raise the sales tax on soda and other sugary beverages.
He also helped organize efforts to contain the 2009 swine flu outbreak and presided over the consolidation and closure of dozens of hospitals and nursing homes across the state, as a result of the Berger Commission.
Daines was raised in Utah and was a Mormon missionary. After graduating from Cornell University Medical College in 1978, he served as a physician in New York City for 25 years at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx and later as a Medical Director at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center from 2000-2007.
Dr. Daines was also a crusader in the fight against childhood obesity. He once made a video in his kitchen, posted on YouTube, where he advocated for a sugar tax to discourage the consumption of soda. In the video, he poured a pitcher of sugar and held up a giant globule of fat that he said was the result of excess consumption of sugared soft drinks.
After his election, Governor Andrew Cuomo appointed a new health commissioner, Dr. Nirav Shah, who is against the imposition of a soda tax. In a statement, Cuomo said Daines’ death was a "tremendous loss." Cuomo said Daines "worked tirelessly to improve the health of all New Yorkers, and his knowledge and deep faith has left a lasting impression on all those who worked with him."
Daines is survived by his wife Linda, his three children Katherine, William and Andrew as well as his grandson Charles, his parents and four siblings.
With reporting by Fred Mogul and Karen DeWitt in Albany.