Schaefer's AIDS comments draw a demand for his resignation

He urged Md. HIV registry, called patients `a danger'

October 14, 2004|By Andrew A.Green | Andrew A.Green,SUN STAFF

A legislative leader is calling for Comptroller William Donald Schaefer's resignation after he suggested that AIDS patients are a danger to society and brought the disease on themselves.

Del. John Adams Hurson, a Montgomery County Democrat who is chairman of the Health and Government Operations Committee, said yesterday that Schaefer's comments about AIDS were "the last straw."

"The comptroller's comments just show that he is really out of touch with where people are who are suffering from this disease," Hurson said. "It demonstrates not just his lack of sensitivity on this subject, but the fact that, unfortunately, he has a string of statements that he has made that have indicated that maybe he is just not fit for his job."

Schaefer could not be reached to comment yesterday afternoon.

At last week's meeting of the Board of Public Works, Schaefer asked the state's AIDS administrator why Maryland has no registry of residents who have the human immunodeficiency virus.

"They didn't get it by just standing in the breeze," he said.

This week, Schaefer told the Washington Post: "As far as I'm concerned, people who have AIDS are a danger."

"They bring it on themselves," Schaefer said. "They don't get it by sitting on the toilet seat. ... A person who gives AIDS, who spreads AIDS, they're bad people. Everybody wants to be on the good side of everything. Well, I'm taking a stand."

Schaefer stood by his comments in an interview yesterday with WMAR-TV. He likened his idea for an acquired immune deficiency syndrome registry to lists of tuberculosis patients that governments kept when that disease was a major threat.

"Because if you had tuberculosis, you spread it. Same way with AIDS," Schaefer told WMAR. "Nobody wants to be identified, they all want to be out of the picture, but that's wrong. Everybody who has AIDS, they got it themselves, they did it themselves, and they should be accountable by saying, `I am an AIDS victim.'"

AIDS patients are "not exactly the greatest people in the world," he said.

Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. called Schaefer's comments "unfortunate."

"You certainly can't vilify someone who contracts an illness because they smoke too much or drink liquor and get liver cancer or they don't exercise and eat wrong foods and become fat and have heart disease," Curran said yesterday. "It's just not fair to vilify people who have an illness."

Schaefer first pushed for a registry of HIV patients a decade ago, but the effort was defeated in the legislature.

David Haltiwanger, director of clinical programs and public policy at the Chase Brexton health clinic in Baltimore, said Schaefer is misguided.

"He's really got it backward," Haltiwanger said yesterday. "A list of names would not make people safer. Getting people tested and knowing their status and helping in changing their behavior if they need to change their behavior, that's what makes us all safer."

Several AIDS advocacy organizations released a statement this week condemning Schaefer's comments at the Board of Public Works meeting. His quotes in the Post were like "gas on the fire," said Joe Berg, a spokesman for Moveable Feast, a Baltimore organization that provides meals and groceries to HIV and AIDS patients.

But Berg said he doesn't agree with Hurson that Schaefer should resign.

"In the interest of all those who have HIV/AIDS in the state, we would much rather have an elected official with as much influence as Comptroller Schaefer become enlightened and use his leadership and influence to lead the way," Berg said.

Sun staff writer David Nitkin contributed to this article.

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