Fenty Declines to Reappoint HIV-AIDS Agency Director

By Susan Levine
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 4, 2007

The District's chief agency in the fight against HIV-AIDS will be getting its third director in just over two years, as it tackles long-standing management problems and moves ahead with a citywide testing campaign.

Marsha Martin announced her departure in a brief e-mail to staff and community groups late Tuesday, hours after Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) was sworn into office. As an appointee of the departing mayoral administration, she wrote, "It is my time to leave the government."

Fenty confirmed yesterday afternoon that he chose not to reappoint Martin. "We thought it was a good time to have a new set of eyes," Fenty said as he greeted well-wishers at his office. "This is one of our critical, critical issues."

Martin's 16-month tenure as director of the Administration for HIV Policy and Programs earned mixed reviews. She was praised for focusing attention on the syndrome but criticized for her approach to collaboration and coordination within the HIV-AIDS community.

"She has been instrumental in bringing greater visibility to the issue of HIV in the District," said Walter Smith, executive director of the D.C. Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. For more than a year, the public advocacy organization has been assessing the city's response to the epidemic, repeatedly finding it wanting.

Smith said that the testing campaign Martin launched last summer represented a significant step forward -- though the campaign has fallen far short of its goal of having most residents know their HIV status -- and that the city had begun to turn a corner in gathering crucial data on infection rates because of key people Martin had hired.

"There were a lot of things she couldn't control," he said, adding that her successor "has to get more support" from top city officials.

At the Whitman-Walker Clinic, the region's largest provider of services to those with HIV-AIDS, executive director Donald Blanchon also credited Martin with speaking publicly and acting visibly to raise awareness of AIDS. "As a District resident, I think that was a remarkable achievement," he said.

But A. Toni Young, co-chairman of the city's advisory HIV Prevention Community Planning Group, faulted Martin for dealing inadequately with many of the community groups working directly with those infected with the virus. "Dr. Martin caused more chaos than resolution," Young said.

Agency spokesman Michael Kharfen said yesterday that Martin was out of the country and unavailable for comment. As for her future, "she's looking at possibilities," he said. Martin previously served as executive director of Washington-based AIDS Action and as a special assistant on HIV and AIDS policy to then-U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala.

The HIV-AIDS administration has had almost a dozen directors in its 21-year history. Martin's predecessor, who held the job just 11 months, was fired after D.C. Appleseed issued a report critical of the city's response to the epidemic.

Staff writer Elissa Silverman contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company