Moments after a controversial AIDS measure officially qualified for the November ballot Wednesday, its opponents and supporters predicted at sharply contrasting press conferences that political extremist Lyndon LaRouche, as well as AIDS, will share the limelight as central issues in the forthcoming campaign.
The measure, sponsored by several LaRouche followers, could lead to the quarantining of thousands of AIDS patients if passed, according to partisans on both sides. Wednesday's competing campaign openers, while focusing on the measure's possible quarantine implications, also included long debate about LaRouche.
Initiative sponsor Khushro Ghandhi of the LaRouche-founded National Democratic Policy Committee, stood in front of a bank of microphones in a crowded and stuffy room for an "invitation-only" press conference--from which a KNBC television reporter was barred. Ghandhi, head of PANIC, or the Prevent Aids Now Initiative Committee, boasted that the organization is "the world's leading experts" on the AIDS crisis and predicted that "wild rumors" will dominate the upcoming campaign.
Gay-rights leaders and Los Angeles City Councilman Joel Wachs, meanwhile, assailed the measure outside City Hall while forecasting an all-out fight against "the LaRouchies." Wachs earlier Wednesday won council support against the measure as being "born of a warped and paranoid program of political self-promotion . . . (that) could result in the most sweeping rollback of civil rights, forced relocation and public persecution since the Third Reich."
Also joining the opposition was Mayor Tom Bradley, who in a "Dear George" letter, invited his GOP opponent, incumbent Gov. George Deukmejian, to "wage a joint campaign (with Bradley) to defeat the measure." Deukmejian's office said the governor is studying the measure and will announce a position on it "in the near future."
The opening salvos occurred within moments of Secretary of State March Fong Eu's certification of the controversial measure for the Nov. 4 ballot. If the meaasure passes, AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, would be categorized with diseases such as measles and tuberculosis as highly contagious.
By some interpretations, the measure's passage could force public health experts to require anyone suspected of being infected by the HTLV III virus that causes AIDS to be tested as well as to bar those infected from working in schools, restaurants and the health field.
These restrictions would apply despite the position of most scientific and medical authorities that AIDS is not transmitted by casual contact with those carrying the virus but rather through intimate sexual contact, blood transfers or contaminated hypodermic needles.
The initiative's proponents screened reporters as they entered the Atwater-area offices of the LaRouche committee. Outside, KNBC political reporter Linda Douglass waited with her camera crew after being barred entry.
"They hung up the phone when I tried to talk to them yesterday," Douglass said. "They said they didn't talk to NBC."
Ghandi said that NBC had distorted LaRouche's positions on a number of occasions, including one broadcast after the Illinois primary earlier this year when two LaRouche followers were nominated as Democrats for lieutenant governor and secretary of state.
In a sometimes combative style, Ghandi stressed that backers of the measure believe passage would lead to an AIDS cure. He downplayed the question of quarantining AIDS victims until a cure is found, but acknowledged that it would be an option open to public health officials.