For Dave Johnson, the battle against AIDS has been both a personal and professional mission.
A leader in the gay and lesbian community, Johnson is infected with the virus that leads to AIDS. Three years ago, his lover died from AIDS.
"For those of us who live in communities substantially impacted by AIDS, it's like being in a war. . . . And for those of us fighting AIDS, we've enlisted until the war is over," said Johnson, who was named Wednesday as the first AIDS coordinator for the city of Los Angeles.
Johnson, who currently co-chairs the United AIDS Coalition, an umbrella group for 30 organizations that assist people with AIDS, was appointed to the $45,000-a-year-post and given the task of mobilizing the city's efforts to cope with the AIDS epidemic.
Mayor Tom Bradley, who joined several City Council members and other officials in announcing his appointment, praised the 34-year-old Johnson as "a strong and valuable asset to the city in our fight against the spread of AIDS. His direct service experience with persons with AIDS and with community organizations make him the best candidate for this position."
Although statistics are not available for the number of AIDS cases in Los Angeles, health officials say that many of the 6,737 cases reported countywide as of March 31 are city residents.
Parker Anderson, director of the Community Development Department where Johnson will work, said the new appointee was selected over an original field of 39 applicants to "provide the glue that will pull together the disparate pieces" of the city's AIDS policy.
As part of his new duties, Johnson will oversee a $1-million housing program that is aimed at building hospices or other shelters for people with AIDS that will receive funds from the CDD and the Community Redevelopment Agency.
In addition, Johnson will help coordinate a $600,000 job-training program, which won council approval Wednesday, that will train people to work at the homes of AIDS patients and provide needed assistance. Johnson will also be involved in advocating legislation to help AIDS patients and developing educational projects aimed at preventing the spread of the disease.
"We will focus on minority communities that have been underserved by AIDS education in the past," said Johnson, who mentioned the black, Asian and Latino communities as areas where more AIDS education is needed. "But I want to go out to the different communities, talk to their leaders and see what their agendas are."
Bridging that gap between public agencies and community groups is part of Johnson's background. The former May Department Stores executive, who said he quit two years ago to become involved full time in the fight against AIDS, has served as executive director of Being Alive, a group that represents people with AIDS, AIDS Related Complex or are infected with the AIDS virus.
Among many in the AIDS community, Johnson is considered a quiet but effective voice whose political tactics reflect those of "a pinstriped activist."
When vandals spray-painted county buildings in protest over the delay in opening an AIDS ward at County-USC Medical Center, Johnson denounced the move as counterproductive. Although Johnson agreed with complaints that government agencies have failed to adequately deal with the health crisis, he distanced himself from the tactics of the more militant groups.
Johnson acknowledged Wednesday that Los Angeles' selection of an AIDS coordinator comes years after such cities as San Francisco, but he added that he believes his appointment signals a strong commitment, particularly after the city selected someone afflicted with the virus.
Johnson, who has been taking the drug AZT and has no symptoms of the disease, said: "This says to me that the city wants the communities affected by AIDS to be in charge of the fight against AIDS."