Schaefer won't step down over AIDS remarks

Lawmaker called on comptroller to resign

October 15, 2004|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

State Comptroller William Donald Schaefer said yesterday that he won't step down over criticism of comments he made about people with AIDS, and he took a swipe at the person who called for his resignation, calling state Del. John Adams Hurson a coward who "can't do his job."

During an appearance at a celebration called the Apple Festival beside the Shot Tower in Baltimore yesterday, Schaefer told reporters he'll "file charges" against Hurson, a Montgomery County Democrat, accusing Hurson of violating his freedom of speech.

"I'm just charging him, like he's charging me," Schaefer said, holding up a copy of the amendments to the U.S. Constitution. "He violated my freedom of speech, the First Amendment. He's trying to shut my mouth. And I am not going to shut my mouth, and most likely I'm going to run again."

Hurson, chairman of the health and government operations committee, said he doesn't want to respond to Schaefer's attacks against him. But he added that he still believes the comptroller was wrong to say people with AIDS are a danger to society who bring the disease upon themselves.

"I just feel sorry for the people who are suffering with AIDS who have been maligned by the comptroller," Hurson said. "The largest portion of people with AIDS in Maryland are African-American women and children. And I still find his comments to be completely out of sync with reality."

During a meeting last week of the state's Board of Public Works, Schaefer asked the state's AIDS administrator why Maryland has no public registry of residents who have the virus. He said such a list could help prevent the spread of AIDS by warning other people about who is infected.

Schaefer later told The Washington Post, referring to people with AIDS: "They bring it on themselves. ... A person who gives AIDS, who spreads AIDS, they're bad people."

Schaefer apologized yesterday for implying that all people with AIDS are "bad people." He said he meant to speak out against people who know they have AIDS and then pass the disease to women and children.

"Let me tell you what my motive was. When you have a man who intentionally infects a woman with AIDS and she has a baby, the main loser is the baby. I'm opposed to that," Schaefer said. "A woman who goes around and spreads AIDS, I'm opposed to that. To me, that's criminal action.

"When a person does something to children, that's a criminal action -- and we report it. But here, if we spread AIDS, it's OK. Well, I don't believe that," he said.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said yesterday that he would not comment on Schaefer's questions about AIDS. "We pay pretty serious people, experts in the health department, to make those decisions. I'll certainly go with their opinion," he said. "With respect to William Donald Schaefer, I think he is a very effective comptroller, and he is a friend, and I have a great respect for him."

Sun staff writer David Nitkin contributed to this article.

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