Whitman-Walker Clinic officials said yesterday that they have hired a national AIDS activist to replace the executive director they ousted last week after only four months on the job.
The new leader of the regional HIV/AIDS services agency will be Cornelius Baker, 38, who now heads the National Association for People with AIDS and has for several years been a member of Whitman-Walker's board of directors.
Baker, a gay African American who is HIV-positive, worked as an aide to D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) and held a post in the federal government's AIDS office during the Bush administration.
Whitman-Walker's board voted unanimously late Wednesday to offer the job to Baker, who immediately accepted, subject to completion of a background check and a final contract. Baker's salary has not been determined; his predecessor was paid $132,000 a year.
"This was done with tremendous enthusiasm by nearly everyone in the room," said Whitman-Walker board Chairman Mark M. Levin. "We think he'll do a tremendous job for us."
Levin asserted that race was not key to Baker's selection, but other past and present officials privately said it was important because the District is a majority-black city where HIV is spreading fastest in the African American community.
"My identity, whether as a black, a gay man, or a person who has HIV or a Washingtonian, is going to focus me on what I consider to be important issues," Baker said yesterday. "The experiences of being any of those things and certainly all of them together makes one far more compassionate and concerned and determined and focused."
The District has one of the highest AIDS rates in the nation and an estimated 14,000 to 17,000 residents who do not know they have been infected with the AIDS virus, according to epidemiologists.
Whitman-Walker has offices in Northwest and Southeast Washington, Hyattsville and Arlington County. With an annual budget of $23 million, the agency offers comprehensive health and mental health care, housing, relief services and other assistance to more than 4,000 clients.
When Baker takes over the nonprofit agency in February, he'll have to restore calm to an organization that was roiled by the brief term of Elliot J. Johnson as executive director. Several board members quit in protest of the process that resulted in Johnson's hiring, and after he went to work a half-dozen senior managers resigned, including the medical director and the chief operating officer.
Johnson and the clinic completed a resignation agreement yesterday, but neither side would disclose the details.
"As far as I'm concerned, the episode is over," Levin said. "We have a lot of very important issues to deal with regarding people, many of whom are not well physically, and we need to get back to our real business, which is helping people in need."