SACRAMENTO — Paul Gann, the crusading co-author of Proposition 13 who helped launch a nationwide property tax revolt, has AIDS, contracted from blood transfusions during a 1982 open-heart operation, it was announced Monday.
A brief statement from People's Advocate, the group Gann organized to launch new initiative campaigns, said only that Gann "learned late last month that he has AIDS."
"The virus entered his system in March, 1982, when he received several blood transfusions during open-heart surgery," the statement said.
Gann has scheduled a press conference for today, at which he plans to discuss his health in detail and describe a campaign to fight acquired immune deficiency syndrome, said Ted Costa, a spokesman for Gann's group.
The 74-year-old former real estate salesman was in his office Monday but was not taking calls, Costa said.
Gann's wife of more than 50 years, Nell, said in a brief telephone interview that her husband has been suffering from chest congestion, which she termed pneumonia, and a low-grade fever for the last four or five weeks.
When his persistent cough proved resistant to treatment with antibiotics, his internist at Kaiser Permanente ordered tests for AIDS, Nell Gann said, and they proved positive.
"They have done the test three times, and it is positive," she said.
More than 1 million Americans are believed to be carrying the virus known to cause AIDS. But estimates vary widely on how many of those individuals will go on to develop the disease, which attacks the body's ability to fight off infections and has invariably proved fatal.
"His health is not that good, but he is in his office," Nell Gann said. "Paul is a fighter. If anyone can overcome this, he will."
She said that her husband later this week is scheduled to begin treatment with AZT, the only drug that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved specifically for AIDS. The drug does not cure the disease but slows its progress.
Although most AIDS cases have occurred among homosexual or bisexual men and intravenous drug abusers, a smaller number has been traced to blood transfusions from infected donors.
Blood-testing safeguards were not in place in 1982 when Gann underwent multiple bypass surgery after suffering a heart attack. He needed transfusions again the following year when he had stomach surgery, Nell Gann said.
Costa said Gann "absolutely" is not gay or bisexual.
"Paul's been happily married for years," he said.
The Ganns have four children. Nell Gann said that she too was tested for exposure to the virus and that the results were negative.
Both Gann's wife and Costa indicated that the illness will not stop Gann from launching another crusade, this time directed at the deadly disease that afflicts him.
The news of Gann's battle with AIDS brought statements of sympathy from past political allies and foes alike.
Gov. George Deukmejian expressed "his deepest sympathy to not only Paul Gann but to everybody who has contracted this deadly disease," Press Secretary Kevin Brett said.
Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) said, "It is tragic news and doubles our resolve to find a victory over this terrible plague. It is clear that AIDS can strike any person in our society and not just a particular group."
Gann teamed with businessman Howard Jarvis, who died last year at 83, to lead what became a national property tax revolt when the two qualified Proposition 13 for the June, 1978, ballot in California. The measure, which cut property taxes by about 57%, won easy voter approval.
The next year, Gann followed with another initiative effort, this one designed to put a limit on government spending. Voters approved it by a 3-to-1 majority in November, 1979.
But in 1980, when Gann tried his own luck at the polls as the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, he was soundly defeated by incumbent Democratic Sen. Alan Cranston.
Although physically frail after his heart surgery, Gann took aim at the Legislature itself in 1984 with a Republican-backed effort to limit the Legislature's budget and curtail the power of the Assembly Speaker.
The initiative won voter approval but was later ruled unconstitutional.