Maryland Delegate Calls for Resignation of State Comptroller Schaefer Over Comments About HIV-Positive People
Maryland state Del. John Hurson (D) on Wednesday called for the resignation of state Comptroller and former Gov. William Schaefer (D) over his call for a public registry of HIV-positive people and his comment that HIV-positive people are "a danger" and that they "brought [infection] on themselves," the Washington Post reports (Mosk/Wagner, Washington Post, 10/14). Schaefer on Tuesday, when asked to explain his request at a Board of Public Works meeting for a public registry listing HIV-positive individuals, said, "As far as I'm concerned, people who have AIDS are a danger. They're a danger to spread AIDS. People should be able to know who has AIDS. It costs an awful lot of money to treat them." Schaefer added that HIV-positive people only contract the virus through risky behavior. "They bring it on themselves," he said, adding, "They don't get it by sitting on the toilet seat. ... A person who gives AIDS, who spreads AIDS, they're bad people" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/13). Hurson, who chairs the Maryland House Committee on Health and Government Operations, said he was "appalled" by Schaefer's comments, adding, "I think he seriously needs to think about stepping down. I seriously question his competence, his mental capacity. I can't believe a public official of his stature would be this insensitive and, frankly, ignorant" (Washington Post, 10/14). In the 1990s, Schaefer pushed a proposal that would have established a public HIV registry, but the measure was defeated three times by the state Legislature. Although Maryland tracks AIDS cases using names, the list is not published or publicly accessible (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/13).
During a public appearance in Baltimore on Thursday, Schaefer said he will not resign and that he plans to "file charges" against Hurson for violating his freedom of speech, the Baltimore Sun reports. "I'm just charging him like he's charging me," Schaefer said, adding, "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 [for comptroller] again [in 2006]" (Pelton, Baltimore Sun, 10/15). Schaefer plans to ask state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran to seek charges against Hurson for "abrogating his right to free speech," according to Schaefer spokesperson Mike Golden (AP/Washington Times, 10/15). However, Schaefer apologized for implying that all HIV-positive people are bad. Schaefer said he was referring only to those individuals who intentionally spread HIV and called intentional HIV infection a "criminal action" (Baltimore Sun, 10/15).
Although others "stopped short" of calling for Schaefer's resignation, his comments drew a "chorus of condemnation" from fellow Democrats and HIV/AIDS advocates on Wednesday, the Post reports. State Del. Peter Franchot (D) said Schaefer "has tarnished his legacy and embarrassed himself." Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley (D) said that Schaefer's comments were "sad, mean-spirited and counterproductive" (Washington Post, 10/14). Joe Berg, a spokesperson for Moveable Feast, a Baltimore-based organization that provides meals and groceries to HIV-positive people, said Schaefer's comments were like "gas on the fire" after his call for a public HIV registry last week, the Baltimore Sun reports. However, Berg disagreed that Schaefer should step down, saying, "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" (Green, Baltimore Sun, 10/14). Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich (R) on Thursday said he would not comment on Schaefer's comments about HIV/AIDS, the Sun reports. "We pay pretty serious people, experts in the health department to make those decisions," Ehrlich said, adding, "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" (Baltimore Sun, 10/15).
2006 Comptroller Race
State Democratic Party Chair Isiah Leggett said he anticipates "a strong field of candidates" in 2006 should Schaefer, who has been comptroller since 1999 and who will be 85 in 2006, choose to run for re-election, according to the Post. Montgomery County, Md., Council President Steve Silverman (D) said any Democrat running against Schaefer likely would get "a huge amount of support," adding that Schaefer "seems incapable of understanding the impact of his offhand comments. It isn't a matter of being politically incorrect. It is that he is morally wrong" (Washington Post, 10/14).