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New "AIDS Czar" Appointed by President Clinton


July 1997

On April 7, President Clinton appointed Atlanta activist Sandy Thurman as director of the Office of National AIDS Policy. (Louis Freedberg, "Clinton Names Atlanta Activist As AIDS Czar," San Francisco Chronicle, April 8, 1997, p. A1).

Thurman, 43, is a former director of AID Atlanta, the largest AIDS services organization in the South. Thurman served as political director for President Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign in Georgia. In announcing her appointment, President Clinton said, "I have already assured her that she will have the support and the resources she will need, including my personal support, to succeed in this all-important task."

Critics say the "AIDS czar" post carries little authority, and generates high expectations. "President Clinton must grant the new AIDS czar access, responsibility and delegation of meaningful authority,'' said Pat Christen, executive director of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. Regarding Thurman's appointment, Christen said, "Given an impossible job, she's certainly the best person."


"We need to let science drive ... on the issue of needle exchange ..." said Thurman. She acknowledged that a recent Health and Human Services report "indicated that needle exchanges do not increase drug use, and do decrease the rate of transmission of the virus." However, she declined to say whether she would urge Clinton to recommend to Congress that the ban on the use of federal funds to support needle exchanges be lifted. She said the more important goal is to educate Congress about needle exchange programs. "That [HHS] report is pretty basic science, that is not rocket science,'' she said. "The report is in the hands of Congress, and we have to see if they are going to act on fallacy and fantasy, or are they going to act on fact." (Susan Okie, "AIDS Policy Director Puts Stress on Science," Washington Post, April 22, 1997, p. A17).

Alexander Robinson, President of the San Francisco-based National Task Force on AIDS Prevention, said Thurman "works for the president and does not want to be out in front of him or the secretary [of HHS].'' He added, "I believe that ultimately the secretary will certify that these programs are appropriate.'' Winnie Stachelberg, legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign agreed that the needle exchange issue will not be resolved by the Clinton Administration alone. "We have to work with her, the president and Congress because we can't forget that Congress really has the ultimate say in what language goes into those bills.''

The only dissenting voice on Thurman's appointment came from ACT UP. "Thurman might have been a good bureaucrat, but certainly was no leader in the war against AIDS,'' said ACT UP Georgia representative Roger Garza. Thurman responded, "ACT UP projects a lot of anger, which is to be expected. It serves a purpose. It makes all the rest of us listen."

Office of National AIDS Policy - (202) 632-1090