Political Notebook: Former AIDS czar pulls support of Walker in D6
by Matthew S. Bajko
Former San Francisco AIDS czar Jeff Sheehy has pulled his support from Debra Walker in the District 6 supervisor race due to her answers on a questionnaire for candidates taking part in an HIV forum this week.
Sheehy told the Bay Area Reporter that he was "totally disappointed" in seeing Walker demonstrate a lack of knowledge about HIV issues and the disease itself in the responses she gave to the questions posed by various AIDS agencies hosting the meeting Friday, July 23.
"It just is really disappointing to see someone endorsed from our community who doesn't have the foggiest idea about HIV or AIDS," said Sheehy, who is HIV-positive and once served as Mayor Gavin Newsom's adviser on HIV and AIDS policy. "I was just stunned."
In particular, Sheehy pointed to Walker referring to HIV as a communicable disease rather than a life-threatening illness and her not mentioning anything about the transgender community, which has been hit particularly hard by the AIDS epidemic, in her responses.
"She doesn't know the difference between HIV and tuberculosis. TB is a communicable disease," said Sheehy. "We quarantine people for TB because it is an airborne disease. You can be sitting on the bus and be exposed to TB from someone who has it. HIV is very hard to catch."
According to a copy of her questionnaire provided to the B.A.R. by the forum organizers, when asked if HIV is "a life-threatening chronic manageable illness or a communicable disease such as tuberculosis," Walker chose the latter.
"HIV/AIDS is a communicable disease and until we find a cure, it is critical that we dedicate the necessary funding to preventive efforts to limit the spread," Walker initially wrote.
In a second questionnaire marked "final," Walker revised her answer somewhat.
"TB is an airborne communicable disease that generally requires quarantine and is curable with treatment. HIV/AIDS is a communicable disease that is spread via body fluids, and does not require quarantine," wrote Walker, an out lesbian who is an artist. "At this time there is not a cure for AIDS but the symptoms of the disease can be mitigated with treatment."
Sheehy, who had not formally endorsed Walker but was supporting her campaign, was also critical of her other responses on the questionnaire, saying that there is "nothing in there."
When asked to list her three top priorities, Walker wrote that her number one concern is public safety followed by sustainable development and tenants. Asked specifically where HIV issues are on her list of priorities, Walker responded that it would be "a key priority."
Asked about Sheehy's criticism of her responses, Walker said she was surprised to hear that he was upset with her answers.
"It is a communicable disease that is spread from person to person. I don't know why he doesn't think that is true," said Walker adding that she has long been an advocate for HIV issues. "If that isn't true, I am not aware of it. Are you?"
Last summer the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention removed HIV from the list of communicable diseases that would prevent people entry to the United States.
In the rule change posted to the Federal Register July 2, 2009, the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services wrote, "While HIV infection is a serious health condition, it does not represent a communicable disease that is a significant threat for introduction, transmission, and spread to the U.S. population through casual contact."
The other leading candidates in the District 6 race – school board president Jane Kim, Human Rights Commission Executive Director Theresa Sparks , gay businessman Jim Meko , and Glendon Hyde , also known as drag queen Anna Conda – either called HIV a chronic illness or both a communicable disease and a manageable life-threatening illness.
AIDS agencies look to sway supe races
Billed as a listening session, Friday's AIDSVoteSF forum is being hosted by a variety of AIDS agencies and advocates, as well as openly gay state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco). It is believed to be the first time that HIV-positive individuals have hosted a forum about their needs and concerns with candidates running for supervisor in San Francisco.
"Everybody votes with their pocketbooks. This is a chance for HIV folks to learn what is in the best interest of them and for the city," said Brian Basinger, the AIDS Housing Alliance's executive director and an organizer of the forum. "This is also an opportunity for the candidates to explore our issues and to know what our issues are and find out how they are going to prioritize them among the things they work on."
The forum is also a way for the city's AIDS groups to have some influence on the even-numbered supervisor races this fall. The current board's biggest defenders of HIV services and AIDS funding – District 6 Supervisor Chris Daly and District 8 Supervisor Bevan Dufty – are both termed out of office this year.
"We need to know who is going to be our champion for HIV and AIDS on the Board of Supervisors. Who is going to put our needs first?" asked Basinger.
According to the health department's 2010 San Francisco HIV Prevention Plan, there are 15,757 people estimated to be living with HIV or AIDS in the city. The majority of those residents, says the plan, live in the Castro, Mission, Western Addition, and Tenderloin.
When looked at by supervisorial districts, District 8 has the highest concentration of people living with HIV and AIDS. With the city's AIDS epidemic still primarily among gay and bisexual men, the Castro continues to be the hardest hit neighborhood when it comes to HIV, with more than 2,000 cases of people with HIV or AIDS.
Were HIV-positive voters and people living with AIDS in San Francisco to vote as one bloc in the coming fall supervisor races, they likely could determine the winner not only in the District 8 race but also District 6, which includes the Tenderloin and South of Market, two other neighborhoods hard hit by AIDS.
And somewhat surprisingly, they likely could influence the District 2 race in Pacific Heights and the Marina, which has sizable HIV and AIDS populations. They would be less likely to impact the District 10 race in the Bayview, which has one of the lowest concentrations of people living with HIV and AIDS of any San Francisco neighborhood.
"This hopefully sets a precedent to really remind candidates that HIV positive voters are not to be ignored. We need to be really mindful who our constituents are," said Cecilia Chung , who is HIV-positive and serves as president of the city's Human Rights Commission.
The races in District 6 and District 10 also provide voters a chance to elect the city's first openly HIV-positive supervisor. Bill Barnes, who was former Mayor Willie Brown's AIDS czar, is seeking the D10 seat, while Hyde is running in D6.
Yet the mere fact they are HIV-positive does not mean HIV voters will automatically vote for them. Chung, in fact, is backing Sparks in the D6 race.
Basinger said he has not made any endorsements in the supervisor races. Nor does he see tomorrow's forum as a platform to secure votes for Barnes or Hyde.
"One would hope that an HIV-positive person would understand the issues more but that doesn't mean just because they are HIV-positive they get it and can be strong and effective leaders on our needs," he said. "The point of this is not to just have a forum to elect HIV-positive folks. Really it is about engaging the HIV positive community to elect leaders that are going to do the best for them."
If anything does come out of the forum, said Basinger, he hopes it ensures that HIV and AIDS is a top concern for all of the candidates.
"I don't see the needs of the HIV community on people's websites or as part of their campaign materials. From my perspective we need to elevate what is going on with us in the conversation; this is one way of doing that," said Basinger.
The HIV forum will take place from 2 to 5 p.m. Friday in the State Building's Milton Marks Auditorium, 455 Golden Gate Avenue.
Wiener signs Castro HQ lease
District 8 supervisor candidate Scott Wiener announced this week that he had signed a lease for his campaign headquarters in a vacant storefront in the heart of the Castro. The openly gay Wiener plans to open his offices at 538 Castro Street, the site of a former underwear and bathing suit store, by August 14.
He will be sharing the space with the Fix Muni Now campaign, which is a local ballot measure being pushed by District 7 Supervisor Sean Elsbernd. Wiener, a deputy city attorney, is the third gay D8 candidate to land a spot in the city's LGBT neighborhood.
Attorney Rafael Mandelman and businessman Bill Hemenger both have campaign offices on Market Street. Out lesbian Rebecca Prozan, an assistant district attorney, is the sole candidate to open an HQ in a different part of D8; her office is in Noe Valley on Church Street.
Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings around 10 a.m. for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column profiles a gay Republican running for Congress in Michigan.
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