Patricia Ware, the executive director of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS, left her post days after an activist selected for the panel on her recommendation withdrew amid revelations that he had made anti-gay comments.
Bush administration officials said Ware was being promoted to a more influential role in the Department of Health and Human Services. But several sources involved in the deliberations over Ware's departure from the panel asserted that she was moved to avoid further embarrassment over the selection of Jerry Thacker, who has described AIDS as the "gay plague" and homosexuality as a "death style," rather than a lifestyle.
Thacker withdrew his nomination on Jan. 23 after newspaper reports came out on comments he had made in speeches and had placed on his Web site.
A veteran of the first Bush administration with ties to the religious right, Ware was a leading proponent of abstinence-only sex education and was former director of the conservative Americans for a Sound AIDS/HIV Policy.
According to several sources on the council and inside the administration, Ware's support of Thacker was the "straw that broke the camel's back" in her stormy tenure as the top staff member for the 35-person advisory panel.
"She was a champion of Thacker and [the administration] wanted to get that behind them," said one council member close to the White House. "Getting rid of her was the way to go."
Claude Allen, deputy secretary at HHS and a longtime friend of Ware's, announced her departure on Friday at the conclusion of the council's two-day meeting.
"She is being promoted to work within the office of the assistant secretary of health. She will be broadening and expanding her portfolio," he said in an interview yesterday. "She will now be working across the board in many areas of health. We need our best people working on health issues."
Ware, who was named executive director of the council in December 2001, did not return telephone calls or e-mail messages yesterday. Allen said White House staffer Josephine Robinson will temporarily take over the council job.
"This is just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic," said David Smith, spokesman for the Human Rights Commission, the nation's largest gay and lesbian advocacy group. He said moving Ware to a new post does not alleviate the group's concerns that her aggressive promotion of abstinence until marriage "is not scientifically sound and ignores gay people because they aren't allowed to marry."
For several months, AIDS activists and some council members grumbled that Ware overreached in the job, frequently imposing her personal ideological views in setting the council's agenda.
"Ultimately it was a decision that was good for Pat and good for the council," said panel member Brent Minor. "In some ways, Pat was drawing more attention than the work of the council."
Much of the controversy revolved around comments Ware made regarding the role of gay, white men both in spreading the AIDS virus and in controlling many of the most influential AIDS organizations.
"As an out gay man, I found Pat Ware to be on the verge of homophobic," said Stuart Burden, an executive at the Levi Strauss Foundation who completed his term on the council last summer. "It appeared at times that she wanted to blame the gay community for AIDS."
Other activists who requested anonymity said that Ware seemed to be attempting to broaden the AIDS prevention coalition by adding minorities and religious activists. But even Ware's sympathizers acknowledged that those efforts often backfired.
"The theory of getting someone who can speak to the evangelical community is a good idea," said one of her allies on the council. "In this instance, she just picked the wrong person."