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Clinton Stresses Priority, Names AIDS Policy Chief

November 11, 1994|MARLENE CIMONS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Hoping to repair his tarnished image within the AIDS community, President Clinton on Thursday named Patricia (Patsy) Fleming, a widely respected legislative specialist with 21 years of government experience, as his new director of AIDS policy.

Clinton, who promised to give AIDS a high priority in his Administration, has been attacked by AIDS activists who say he has not done enough.

Clinton, introducing Fleming in a White House ceremony, reaffirmed his commitment to battling the disease. "The face of AIDS is no longer the face of a stranger," he said. "It is the face of a friend. . . . It is a disease with a human face."

His voice breaking, he added that he was dedicating the occasion "to my dear friend Elizabeth Glaser," the Los Angeles woman who delivered a stirring speech to the 1992 Democratic National Convention which nominated him, and who is ill with AIDS.

The President apparently hopes that Fleming can succeed where her predecessor, Kristine M. Gebbie, failed--particularly in communicating what the Administration views as its achievements in AIDS policy. After a year on the job, Gebbie left amid criticism that she lacked access to the President and support from within the federal agencies and had neglected to consult with AIDS experts and activists on the outside.

However, both Clinton and Fleming--and the AIDS community--almost certainly now will face a far worse problem than communication. With the new Republican and distinctively conservative Congress it is likely to be a formidable challenge to push increased--or even current--AIDS programs through a Congress whose leaders have promised to cut taxes, increase military spending and cut social programs.

Fleming said that she remains optimistic, saying Congress "has always been sympathetic to AIDS," particularly in supporting money for increased scientific research.

But she said in an interview earlier in the week that she expects the new Congress to be "more difficult in terms of funding" AIDS programs in general. "We will have to use our funds more judiciously," she said.

And she acknowledged that it would be especially difficult to gain support among lawmakers for prevention and education programs promoting safer sex practices, particularly those targeting adolescents, one of the fastest growing populations of infected Americans. Clinton has asked that she compile a report on the problem of AIDS infection in teen-agers.

Fleming, who has been serving as interim AIDS policy director since last August, most recently served as a special assistant to Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala. She worked for nearly a decade for the late Rep. Ted Weiss (D-N.Y.) where, among other things, she was a major force in shaping AIDS legislation for Weiss' House Government Operations subcommittee on human resources.

"Like many Americans, AIDS has changed my life," she said. "The utter horror of the AIDS epidemic has reinforced my need to be an activist. For that, I am grateful. But AIDS has also forced me to attend too many funerals, to hold the hands of too many grieving friends and family members and to participate in too many candlelight vigils. For that, I am angry.

"I am angry because as an African American, as a woman, and as a mother of three sons, I know all too well the threat that HIV poses for every American."

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