Mayor Marion Barry's decision last week to delay City Council action on a $63 million D.C. revenue bond issue for Georgetown University once again demonstrates the political clout of Washington area gay activists.
Barry delayed transmitting the university's request for tax-exempt bonding authority to finance remodeling of its medical and law school facilities at the behest of leaders of the Gay Activist Alliance and Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, two leading gay groups.
Gay groups are still steaming about a D.C. Superior Court ruling last year that Georgetown may withhold privileges from gay student organizations because the university's adherence to Catholic beliefs against homosexuals is protected by the First Amendment -- a ruling that is being appealed.
Gay leaders have asked the mayor to hold up the bonding request until university officials agree to recognize the activities of gay student groups. Barry promised to consider the idea.
Gays were among Barry's earliest supporters in 1978 when he launched his uphill battle for mayor in the Democratic primary. Since taking office, Barry has repaid his political debt many times over by appointing gays to city boards and commissions and supporting them on key legislative issues.
The mayor and the influential Stein Club had a falling out earlier this year over presidential politics. The mayor urged the group to support Jesse L. Jackson's "rainbow" campaign, but Stein members instead backed Walter F. Mondale. Since then, however, the mayor and Stein members have put aside their differences.
Georgetown's need for money points up the cash crunch that all universities with teaching hospitals are facing. The bond issue includes $6.1 million to modernize the university's hospital.
These nonprofit hospitals lack the ability to buy the latest equipment -- such as state-of-the-art diagnostic machines that cost $2 million-plus -- and to modernize their buildings.
As a result, Georgetown and George Washington are exploring money-raising schemes for their teaching hospitals. Georgetown's board of trustees hired the investment firm of Kidder Peabody last year to estimate a value for its hospital, should it be sold. The money men have made no final recommendation to the university, but there are periodic rumors that the hospital is talking to Hospital Corp. of America, the largest for-profit chain in the country, as well as Sisters of Mercy, another hospital chain, among others.
Further along in its talks is the George Washington University Medical Center, which has been meeting for a year with representatives of American Medical International, a for-profit hospital chain in Beverly Hills.
Philip Birnbaum, dean for administrative affairs at George Washington, said the university chose only one firm to talk with because he and Dr. Ronald Kaufman, vice-president for medical affairs, are friends of John Moxley, an AMI vice-president. "We knew Dr. Moxley as an academician and knew he could speak the language," Birnbaum said.
Although AMI "would certainly have a leg up" if the negotiations concluded that the hospital should be sold or leased, Birnbaum said that the talks do not represent a commitment to AMI. "We're just trying to identify issues."
However, the three options that AMI recently presented to Birnbaum are that AMI would buy the hospital, lease it under a long-term agreement or enter into a joint agreement where George Washington would be the minority owner.
Although most recognize the need for improvements, the proposed ownership changes at George Washington have not been greeted with universal applause. The Attending Physicians Association at the hospital, among others, unsuccessfully sought at least one other group to study the hospital's financial situation before the meetings with AMI took hold.