Clinton Taps Temporary Liaison on AIDS Policy
President Clinton, moving to plug holes in an AIDS-fighting policy that activists say is sagging, Tuesday named a temporary replacement for the White House AIDS coordinator who resigned under fire last month.
Clinton appointed Patricia S. Fleming, an aide to Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, to the post until the White House finds a permanent coordinator, which is expected to take about 60 days.
“This Administration has made significant strides in the fight against this terrible epidemic,” Clinton said. “Patsy Fleming will make sure we don’t lose our momentum.”
Fleming, who worked as a health issues specialist for the late Rep. Ted Weiss (D-N.Y.), said she will return to the Health and Human Services Department when a permanent coordinator is found, and she will not be in the running for the job.
“Though we’ve made considerable progress in coming to grips with this epidemic, much more remains to be done,” she said.
Fleming replaces Kristine M. Gebbie, who stepped down last month after AIDS activists derided her for failing to increase the importance of the epidemic on the national agenda. Activists said that Clinton, who created the White House AIDS coordinator post to oversee cooperation between federal agencies that deal with different aspects of the AIDS crisis, never gave Gebbie enough power to begin dealing with the problem.
American Foundation for AIDS Research President Mervyn Silverman said that Fleming will “successfully define the tasks at hand,” something critics say Gebbie was never able to do.
Some AIDS activists, incensed that Clinton replaced Gebbie for a short time without restructuring the job to give it more authority, say the move represents a “huge backslide.”
“Two months is a lifetime for people with AIDS,” said Thomas F. Sheridan, treasurer of AIDSPAC, a lobbying group for research. “This is wasted time.”
Clinton promised during his 1992 presidential campaign to create the post, but the job has proved unnecessary because most health agency chiefs have tried to spur support for battling AIDS by themselves, said Peter Staley, founder of the New York Treatment Action Group, an AIDS advocacy organization.