Activists seeking money for services to AIDS victims applied more pressure on Mayor Maureen O'Connor and the San Diego City Council on Wednesday during debate that sparked a council member's accusation that O'Connor is "playing politics" with the AIDS issue.
About 50 people turned out for a mid-afternoon meeting of the council's Rules, Legislation and Intergovernmental Relations Committee in the mistaken belief that a proposal to spend $750,000 in city funds for support services to AIDS victims would be debated.
They left--many visibly angered and clearly identifying O'Connor as the primary obstacle to increased city funding for AIDS victims--when only a scheduled discussion of how the city and county will coordinate their efforts on AIDS occurred.
"Obviously, the mayor doesn't want to deal with it," said Susan Jester, a political consultant who is lobbying for the AIDS Assistance Fund. "She is the chairman of the rules committee and she could have put it on the docket."
"We are talking about visibility. We're talking about leadership, too," said Nicole Ramirez-Murray, president of the AIDS Assistance Fund, which operates housing and a food bank for AIDS victims. "If (O'Connor) can go ride garbage trucks . . . she can visit some of our AIDS houses."
The comments followed a meeting during which Councilmen Wes Pratt and Ed Struiksma stepped to the public's microphone to question why the $750,000 funding proposal was referred to two different council committees.
Pratt, Struiksma and Councilman Bob Filner last month called on the city to spend the money--$250,000 of it immediately--after 500 demonstrators staged a loud protest outside the site of O'Connor's State of the City address to demand increased funding for AIDS victims.
(The city has contributed $160,000 to three AIDS social service groups. O'Connor has noted that public health issues are the responsibility of county government, which is spending nearly $2 million this year on AIDS-related services.)
The three council members forwarded their request to the council's Public Services and Safety Committee, but in a Jan. 29 memo, committee chairwoman Gloria McColl told Pratt that the issue had been referred to the rules committee.
The referral was too late for Wednesday's meeting, but Pratt received a Tuesday memo from rules committee aide Chris Crotty suggesting that "you may wish to raise the urgency of the AIDS funding issue" during the discussion of city and county priorities. With the two memos in mind, Struiksma believed that the $750,000 proposal would be discussed Wednesday, and his office told callers that it would be debated.
But when the matter came up, O'Connor noted that the funding proposal was not on the agenda and, therefore, the committee could not vote on it. She said it should be sent back to the Public Services and Safety Committee. After some discussion, McColl promised to take up the issue within four weeks.
In interviews, Pratt questioned the "circuitous" route of the funding proposal and Filner wondered whether "there's coordination there or lack of coordination" between the two committees. Struiksma, who is pondering whether to challenge O'Connor in the June mayoral primary, was much more blunt.
"The case is that (O'Connor) is playing politics with it . . . . It's obvious to me that there is some kind of desire not to hear it," he said.
O'Connor is equally adamant that the funding issue be considered as part of the city's regular budget process later this spring, along with dozens of other requests for increased funding. She bristled at the suggestion that she was attempting to dodge the AIDS issue.
"I have supported AIDS funding" by lobbying in Sacramento and Washington, she said after the meeting. "I was the only (council) member who walked in the (1987 Gay Pride) parade to press for more AIDS funding. Everyone was invited. I was the only one who showed up.
"I'm saying that we have to adhere to the (budget) process," she added. To make special exceptions "is not fair to all those who went through the process and were denied."
But activists promised to continue packing meetings and dogging O'Connor and other city leaders on the subject. "We will make this issue a priority by our numbers, by our persistence, and by our questions," Ramirez-Murray said.