The Whitman-Walker Clinic hired a veteran Los Angeles HIV/AIDS program administrator last night to replace executive director Jim Graham, who resigned six months ago to join the D.C. Council.

, 55, will take charge in August of the region's dominant medical and social services organization for HIV/AIDS patients and the gay community.

"It's an honor to be selected," Johnson said. "The Washington community should be proud of itself for having put together such a comprehensive and inclusive clinic. It's my intent to continue building on that foundation."

Whitman-Walker offices in Northwest and Southeast Washington, Hyattsville and Arlington offer comprehensive health and mental health care, housing, relief services and other types of assistance to more than 4,000 clients. The agency's annual budget is $23 million.

Johnson joined Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center in 1979 and held various contract supervisory positions there until 1992, when he became administrator of the HIV/AIDS outpatient services division.

With a $26.5 million budget and 125 employees, the Los Angeles outpatient clinics care for 2,900 HIV/AIDS patients who each make about 15 visits a year.

Johnson said the range of services offered at Whitman-Walker is much broader than that of the Los Angeles program, which assigns each patient to a team that includes a doctor or physician assistant, a nurse and a social worker. Whitman-Walker does not take that approach.

Johnson said he plans to lead a "vigorous discussion" about changes he may make here.

"Elliot Johnson brings years of success and a broad knowledge of HIV/AIDS health care from one of the most respected HIV/AIDS medical facilities in the nation," said Whitman-Walker President Mark M. Levin.

Johnson also has pledged to work toward reducing new HIV infections with education and prevention programs targeted at the groups most likely to be affected -- blacks, young people, injection drug users, gay men and Latinos, Levin said.

The District has one of the highest AIDS rates in the nation and an estimated 14,000 to 17,000 HIV-positive residents who have not yet been diagnosed with HIV.

Board members praised Johnson for working closely with churches, minority community organizations and gay groups to generate public support for his programs.

"Collaboration is my style," he said. "I mean to rely on that style here in the Whitman-Walker family. I will be open to the concerns of the communities, to the staff and to the board."

As executive director, Graham was the unquestioned leader of Washington area HIV/AIDS care for 14 years before he won a seat on the D.C. Council and took office in January.

CAPTION: Elliot Johnson has run a major Los Angeles AIDS/HIV outpatient program.