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At 9:30 a.m., Hank Carde begins a busy Monday with an appearance at the mayor’s kickoff for National Public Health Week. Afterward, he spends some time working on his influential AIDS newsletter, a faxed bulletin often read by top city officials, Hill staffers, and at least one senior control board staffer. By 1:50 p.m., he arrives at the John Wilson/District Building to testify at a D.C. Council hearing. Before and after his testimonyhe’s No. 1 on a list of 52 witnesseshe gabs with city administrators and a Washington Post reporter, who will quote him prominently in the next day’s paper.
Carde delivers his statement in the strong voice of a man who has overseen hundreds of subordinates. When At-Large Councilmember Linda Cropp begins offering what sound like hollow promises, Carde stomps: “Let me put you on the spot: Are you prepared to go back to Congress to say that?” Carde wants Cropp to fight to restore some of the cuts to the city’s struggling public health programs, particularly those that affect AIDS patients.
Few witnesses have the temerity to ask such frank questions of the woman who is the early favorite to succeed David Clarke as council chair. “Um, yes,” Cropp answers. A little unevenly, she adds that she has underlined for members of Congress and the control board that public health is a council priority.
After his testimony, Carde sails down three flights of stairs to another office, where he hopes to review the new health insurance plan for District employees. In the afternoon, he makes his usual round of calls to city and federal bureaucrats, some of whom have come to dread his persistent queries.
In case all this sounds like a rather unexceptional day for a powerful District lobbyist, consider what else Carde did that Monday in April. He downed roughly 20 pillspotent pharmaceuticals with so many names he can’t keep them straightdesigned to stave off illnesses like toxoplasmosis and an AIDS-related strain of pneumonia. He took other drugs through his daily IV drip, and he gave a blood sample in preparation for a six-hour blood transfusion the next day. He awoke that morning only after his usual night of diarrhea and poor sleep, side effects of the drug regimen.
Carde has had HIV since the mid-1980s and AIDS since June 1990. He has lived with a T-cell count of less than 10 for two years. (A healthy adult should have a count of 1,200.) Cancer has blackened a portion of his left leg, and he’s slowly going blind because of another infection. His weight has dropped from 172 pounds in the early ’90s to 125 today, leaving his face bony and pasty. His skin is craggy and bulbous in places because of a skin infection, and he’s lost most of his hair to a monthly round of chemotherapy.
What’s more, Carde isn’t really a lobbyist, if that term connotes a wood-paneled office and a jumbo paycheck. Carde’s many hours of work are voluntary. His homea nice but modest 11th Street SE row house across the street from an elementary schoolserves as his office. He funds his mission to improve D.C. AIDS services with his Navy pension (his expensive health care is also paid for by the U.S. government). “I guess I could have just gone to Key West and lived in the sun,” he says, adding with a smile, “and I have thought about it.”
By most medical accounts, he should be dead. He’s been close to death several times, but some dunderheaded move by the city government or a fresh crisis in AIDS services (sometimes real, sometimes perceived) has always dragged him from the brink. He works nearly every day, often tapping away on his laptop with the IV jammed into a thinning arm. He is obsessed with the city’s public health programs, particularly the $40 million or so it spends to fight AIDS, and the main vehicle of his obsession is his newsletter, A Letter to Friends. He publishes it every three or four days, sometimes faxing it as late as 4 a.m.
His newsletter follows AIDS dollars carefully through the labyrinth of federal and city government. It may sound like a mundane taskand truthfully, A Letter to Friends is best read with the aid of a strong stimulantbut public health advocates say Carde’s meticulous accounting often prods lax officials into moving AIDS contracts to the top of the city’s paperwork mountain.
Carde is relentless in his proddingcity officials tell of hourly faxes and phone calls from Carde if they don’t respond to his first call right away. Earlier this year, he phoned the new director of housing for a consortium of AIDS groups and more or less ordered her to stop organizing her files and begin working on the citywide AIDS needs-assessment immediately. It was her third week.
But his constant information-gathering has made him an unsurpassed expert on D.C. AIDS issues; several top administrators say he often provides them with the real scoop on the inner workings of their bureaucracies.
“You try to find out what’s wrong in your department, and you get to know him that way,” says Department of Health Director Harvey Sloane, who has become friends with Carde since Sloane joined the D.C. government two years ago. “His information is always reliable,” echoes a federal official.
More broadly, in nearly a decade of involvement, Carde has also helped shape the way the city has responded to AIDS. “No one in my mind has as much influence over AIDS policy as Hank does,” says Melvin Wilson, the city’s top AIDS administrator.
For example, though Carde has no seat on the Ryan White planning councila governmentally appointed group that hands out $25 million in federal AIDS grantshe has been known to sway majority opinion on the council with a curt speech from the audience. Carde helped create not just the planning council but two other important HIV/AIDS groups in Washington: Food & Friends and the HIV Community Coalition.
But today, Carde says he fears for everything he’s bled for over the years. Because the city has taken a meat cleaver to its public health programs, he feels his achievements in AIDS policy may be rendered irrelevant. “You can’t really think about the AIDS crisis improving when you see that the basic health foundation of the city is eroding,” he says.
Various cuts required to balance the city’s books have slashed the public health budget by more than $13 million this year alone, according to the health department. Public health spending has fallen from $107 million in 1995 to $45 million this yeara stunning decline, even in a city cinching its belt another notch every day.
“I would like to be able to say that these cuts merely trimmed out excess fat, but I cannot,” Carde told Cropp’s committee. The city has closed four of its 15 neighborhood health clinics and eliminated more than 150 residential treatment beds for drug addicts, who make up as much as two-fifths of the city’s AIDS population. The city has also been unable to afford a rigorous surveillance and treatment program to control the spread of tuberculosis.
Carde often says that the city has cut through the fat to the tendons and now the bare bones of public health. He envisions a city two years from now with TB racing through public housing and prisons, infectious diseases spreading through schools that have only part-time nurses to send sick students home, and untreated drug users growing more desperate and violent. “I’m feeling really challenged by all this [in] a way that I’ve never felt before,” Carde says.
Such statements would sound like more of the usual radical hand-wringing if Carde were the usual radical. But the Vietnam vet and ex-aide to the Joint Chiefs of Staff has followed an unlikely path to AIDS activism. Freeland Henry Carde IIIYale graduate, second-generation naval officer, lifelong Republicanwas never supposed to participate in street-theater demonstrations. By the early ’90s, he was organizing them.
Carde has avoided telling his own story outside the gay press, worried in part that building an image as a headline-chaser would diminish his effectiveness as a facts-and-figures reform advocate. He turned down my requests for interviews for more than a year and agreed to change his mind only after I promised to mention his reluctance in print. “I’m not the story,” Carde gruffly told me, over and over.
But Carde himself is intriguing because he stands at the intersection of the three most compelling gay issues in 1990s America. He is a gay man who served with distinction for 20 years in the military. He wears what he calls a “commitment ring”in lieu of the wedding band he can’t legally wearto honor his relationship with Ben Hartman, who died in 1988. And Carde has fought to force the government to deal with a disease that largely affects America’s most despised populations.
Beneath Carde’s all-business military veneer is a man who has loved and ached deeply. In fact, the tragedy of Hank Carde is only partially the tragedy of AIDSfor while AIDS will surely kill him, part of him has died already. It was not until he met Ben, at age 38, “that I became a full human being for the first time,” Carde says. And when Ben died nearly three years later, “I died.”
With Ben gone, Carde slowly returned to a life of duty. But he left the corridors of the Pentagon for the streets of Washington. And unexpectedly, his AIDS activism would become not the aberration of his life, but its logical endpoint.
Carde has been known all his life as a detail man. I called his mother and found out why. “I would be happy to meet with you to talk about my son,” Marybelle Carde says. “This is my schedule: I am not free on Monday. I am free on Wednesday. Golf season starts very soon, and Thursday is golf. The first and fourth Tuesdays of each month are free…” Marybelle Carde is 81.
She is also, it seems, the source of Hank’s straightforward demeanor. “He’s No. 3 of four children,” his mother observes, “and the other three are straight.”
More generally, she recalls her son as a curious, fastidious child who had a strong sense of independence. As a teenager, Carde caused a stir when he refused to accept his designation as Eagle Scout. “He said the whole thing was a travestythat the boys just sit around and try to figure out which badges are easiest to get,” his mother says.
Carde was taught from a young age that honor matters, and that honor lies in hard work. Like most military kids, he grew up everywhere and nowhere in particular. He was born in the District on May 3, 1947, when his father worked for the Naval Research Laboratory. Freeland Carde Jr. had been a highly decorated World War II submarine skipper, and his family followed his naval career to San Diego and Newport, Calif., and Charleston, S.C., among other cities. The Cardes were a prototypically conservative military familyMrs. Carde stayed at home to raise her kids (though she eventually became a teacher), and the family attended Presbyterian church regularly.
Carde himself remembers that he skipped school occasionally and muckraked his way through his high-school paper in Garden City, N.Y. As an undergraduate at Yale in the mid-’60s, Carde fought the bureaucracy to create an African Studies major, the first of its kind at the college. (His mother says the administration set absurdly high requirements for the undergraduate major, including learning Arabica graduate-school program. Carde was the first undergrad to complete the two-year Arabic course.)
But if he has the mind of a rebellious intellectual, Carde has the heart of a traditionalist. At a time when most Yale students were anti-war enthusiasts, Carde joined the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). It was the first of many hard choices in favor of the U.S. military. “I grew up in a time when it was expected in some families that one would go into the military,” Carde says. He felt that sense of duty stronglya duty not just to his country but to his father, who had used the Navy to yank himself up from a hardscrabble childhood. For Hank, the Navy was a must.
But the decision set the stage for a lifetime of internal clashes small and large. For instance, Carde had enjoyed reporting and editing for the Yale Daily News, but he felt compelled to leave the paper after it ran a photo of a drunk wobbling in front of an ROTC drill team. “It was distressing to me to see the drill team treated in a derogatory way,” he says.
And then, of course, came Vietnam. Though he now calls the war “a horrible national mistake,” Carde believed in 1968 that his duty to his country was prior to his politics. “When you go into uniform,” he says, “in some ways you leave responsibility for making decisions to others. We take an oath to obey orders.”
And the truth is that Carde flourished in the military, holding close any internal struggles over politics or his still emerging homosexuality. His two decades of “fitness reports”performance evaluations completed every few monthsare uniformly glowing. Carde was not just a well-liked, well-mannered, high-achieving officer; for many superiors, he was the very epitome of Navy values.
A 1971 fitness report by a Navy captain calls Carde “one of the finest junior officers serving in Vietnam.” Two years later, another officer wrote that he considered Carde “to be superior to all other officers of his rank and length of service which I have encountered in my time in the Navy.” Eight years after that, his commanding officer wrote that Carde “is a true professional….The hours he has worked in this job are staggering and his productivity exceeds that of any officer on this ship.” Carde won 16 medals in his 20 years, including two Bronze Stars.
Ensign Carde started his naval career as an electronics officer, but he angled quickly and persistently for more responsibility, particularly duty in Vietnam. His only mildly negative fitness report, issued in 1969, chided that Carde was “possessive of such a strong and overriding desire” for bigger challenges that he wasn’t focusing on current duties. (Carde, who is still tender to criticism even as he turns 50 this week, says only half-jokingly that it took him “10 years to get over that report.”)
Carde was eventually given bigger challenges. He entered an intelligence-training course, and in 1970 he landed in Vietnam to work as a Navy spy. He had learned Vietnamese and worked with natives to collect information on North Vietnamese and Viet Cong movements and tactics.
Frightfully ambitious and easily bored, he asked for duty in heavy-casualty areas and got it: He won one of his Bronze Stars for his work during a two-week period in early 1971 when, according to the award citation, “he organized and led an eight-man [South Vietnamese] security patrol into dense jungle to locate water mines. Although radio communication was lost and large enemy units were known to be located in the area,” his patrol discovered how the mining operation worked and curtailed it. “During that period,” the citation continues, “Carde performed his duties under the threat of enemy terrorist squads and main force units and was subjected to rocket and mortar attacks.”
What the citations don’t say is that Carde saw both wretched carnage and glimmers of humanity overseas. During his anti-mining operation, for instance, he often had to search the bloated corpses of Viet Cong soldiers killed trying to sabotage friendly boats. In addition, he not only discovered who was running the mining operation, but the names of the man’s wife and children and the location of his home. Likewise, Carde discovered later that his opponent knew his own movements and routines. The experience was deeply affecting, Carde says: “In a strange, warped kind of way I almost got fond of this guy, and I like to think he felt the same.”
Carde pauses, and it occurs to him not to utter the “war is hell” cliché. “War,” he says instead, and more convincingly, “is strange.”
After the war, Carde hopscotched the globe with assignments in weapons, intelligence, and engineering. It’s difficult to exaggerate how much he impressed his superiors, almost all of whom recommended him for accelerated promotions. Carde excelled as both student and leader: As a lieutenant commander in 1979, he earned a master’s in national-security affairs from the Naval Postgraduate School (where he placed third in a class of 83). And as a commander in the early ’80s, he served as the No. 2 officer on the USS Francis Hammond, whose captain called Carde “perfect.”
By 1984, Carde was surely on the fast track to an admiralty. Still in his 30s, he was promoted to work as a political-military planner for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he was eventually responsible for overseeing military policy toward more than 50 African nations. By the late ’80s, he notes, “I had more security clearances than I can actually tell you about.”
Finally, in 1988, Carde reached what would be a pinnacle in any Navy career: The top brass wanted him to captain a destroyer. Command at sea is a rare and cherished duty, and destroyers are often considered the U.S. fleet’s most prestigious ships.
It was a stirring moment for a man who had devoted his life to the Navy. And had it not been for a night a couple of years earlier, Carde would have undoubtedly said yes. But by 1988, there was finally more to Carde’s life than military duty. There was responsibility of another sortduty to Ben, and at last, duty to himself.
As any openly gay person knows, coming out of the closet is a strange experience, at once foreign and familiaras if you are remembering thoughts and feelings that you had somehow forgotten for an entire lifetime. Today, Carde knows the language and politics and history of homosexuality well. That was not true for most of his life.
Carde recognized some same-sex attractions early on, but he avoided pondering their implications. “When I was in high school and struggling with this, it was so repressive at that time that it was hard to even self-acknowledge,” Carde says. “You have to put such a cement jacket over your feelings.”
And because Carde was such a disciplined man, his jacket fit tighter than most people’s. Many other men of his generation came out earliereven men in the military like Army Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, who made the cover of Time in the 1970s after he announced his homosexuality. Others simply left the military for civilian careers, as Carde could have after Harvard Business School accepted him in the early ’70s.
He said no: “I was having the time of my life, and business school seemed dowdy.” With animation still evident after all these years, he adds, “The Navy is not for everyone, but if you like going to sea, travelingI went to Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, many other placesif you like the technological aspects of ships…it gets into your soul.”
What’s more, 25 years ago the civilian world was a very different place for lesbians and gays. Some pioneers had come outmany of them self-styled activists and ’60s liberalsbut Wall Street was as closeted as the Pentagon.
So he stayed in the Navy. “Look, it was a terrific career,” Carde emphasizes. “I paid a high price for it, yes, but it was a terrific career,” full of State Department meetings and White House briefings. “It was everyone’s dream’Maybe I might change some history.’” But life in rarefied military confines meant he could meet men only “in very discreet ways….I would not describe myself as having a roaring social life.” Even after settling in Washington in the mid-’80s, Carde ventured only occasionally into gay bars, where he mostly sought out briefeven one-nightsexual encounters. (Carde believes he contracted HIV in one of these encounters, though he’s not sure which.)
Gay Washington in the mid-’80s still afforded privacy to guarded gay congressmen, Pentagon officials, and countless others in sensitive jobs. Outing was years away, and mainstream reporters were asking many fewer questions about the private lives of public officials.
So, as long as he was careful, Carde could occasionally act on his longings. And boy, was he careful: Whenever he spoke to anyone at a gay bar, he used a pseudonym, “John Townsend.” He drove a different way each time to the bars, and he kept one eye on the rearview mirror. He shunned gay organizations.
During security investigations, he also wore his medals on his sleeve. He made sure that investigators who could grant or deny him security clearances knew of his wartime accomplishments. “I had a chestful of medals. I had fought in Vietnam in some of the highest-casualty areas. So they weren’t likely to sayto me, anyway’Are you a wimp?’ It was their stereotype, but it helped me.”
Because he worked in intelligence, he knew how vicious his colleagues in counterintelligence were about tracking down gays in the military: They looked through people’s trash, they followed their cars, they staked out their homes, they questioned their friends. During Carde’s years in the Navy, according to Randy Shilts’ Conduct Unbecoming, the military was ousting as many as 1,900 men and women every year, and the Navy was the most aggressive branch of all.
For his part, Carde faced the prospect of military investigation both at work and at home: By an unfortunate fluke, in the mid-’80s he lived in a Southwest Washington apartment next door to a senior member of the Defense Investigative Service. It was hard to feel at ease.
Carde had pretty much resolved to live a private, quiet gay life foreverhe had learned that the counterintelligence witch-hunters mainly targeted those officers who assumed a modicum of normality about their homosexuality. Carde, by contrast, was vigilantly restrained. He found his fulfillment in work, in promotions, in the orderly and (at least in theory) meritocratic world of the Navy.
Ben Hartman changed all that. One night in February 1986 at around 11:30, Carde sneaked from his home and drove to Equus, a Capitol Hill gay bar now called Remington’s.
Across the room, he saw Hartmana “lanky, toothy guy with a huge grin. It was the proverbial falling in love at first sight,” Carde remembers. As they sat on bar stools and talked, Carde began to see in Hartman all the qualities he himself lacked: “As dour as I am, he was exuberant….He just exuded fun and funniness.”
As they got to know each other, Carde and Hartman discovered they were both HIV-positive, and they knew that eventually they would become ill. But they rarely talked of such matters. Instead, “it was a little like the scene in The Wizard of Oz where it goes from black-and-white to color,” says Carde. They celebrated all the little things that turn friends into loverssquabbling over which spaghetti sauce to buy, or laughing together so hard they got tears in their eyes.
Hartman had no college degree and worked as a florist”we could not have been more different in many ways,” Carde says. Because Hartman was so extroverted, Carde hid his real identity from him until his retirement from the military more than two years after they had met. He merely told Hartman he worked “in a sensitive job in government.” (Even after he knew the truth, Hartman called Carde “John” the rest of his life, and Carde’s in-laws still use that name as well.)
Hartman started to become ill a little more than a year after he and Carde met. The stress began to mount on Carde, who was still expected to jump any time the Pentagon called.
One night in 1987, Carde was overwhelmed. He got home from work around 2 a.m. A sinus infection Hartman had contracted had become so serious that his sinus cavity had virtually exploded, causing wrenching pain. A bundle of stress and conflicted emotion, Carde composed a letter to his mother and siblings in which he revealed his homosexuality (his father had died about six months before). He was typically straightforward, announcing not only that he was gay but that he had HIV and that he was caring for his dying lover.
“It was a sense of priorities,” Carde says in explaining why he finally came out. “Ben came before everything else, and the family needed to understand that.”
His family members understood, and their only argument was with Carde’s timing: He had waited until after his 40th birthday, and after his father’s death, to tell them he was gay. (Carde says he worried that the shock of his coming out might kill his father, who spent the last months of his life ill.) “This is a very conservative family, you have to remember,” Carde says. “I was just overwhelmed with their support.”
But as that difficulty was resolving itself, Hartman’s condition was worsening. By the summer of 1988, when the Navy offered Carde the destroyer, Hartman didn’t seem to have long to live.
What might have been a tough choice turned out to be no choice at all. Carde had finally inhaled something besides the antiseptic odor of patriotic obligation, of Persian Gulf strategy and security concerns in Zaire. And there was no going back.
Besides, he had served for 20 years, would receive a decent pension, and had accomplished a lot. He was also worried about further security-clearance investigations, since he was seeing Hartman so often and had never been married to a woman. But even without those mitigating factors, his departure was never in question. It came down to this: “It was not possible to take care of Ben and drive a destroyer.” So he left.
The next few months were awful. Hartman was hospitalized several times with various AIDS-related illnesses. Dementia was the worst, since it made him tear at his own flesh. Once, Carde remembers, there was blood all over his hospital room:
“He had become a confused child, really, and then, essentially, he was an animal in pain. When I wasn’t there, he would be lashed down. At times I would go home for a few hours, or sleep at the hospital, and then return. He had gone blind by then, so he wouldn’t really know who was there. I would hold his hand, and I could feel his painI could actually feel it myself, in a way, if you can imagine that. He wouldn’t know who was there, but he would realize after a while that it was me. And I could feel him release a little. And we would communicate for hours, just like that.”
It’s hard to know how an experience like that affects a person. After someone special enough to rescue Carde from his black-and-white existence finally came along, he was gone: Bernard Michael Hartman Jr. died Dec. 13, 1988. Even today, Carde speaks of that period of his life in ethereal terms: “It was a magic three years,” he whispers.
But at least according to outward signsemployment, daily activities, friendsCarde turned his life upside down after Hartman’s death. He became a personal-care aide for Whitman-Walker Clinic, feeding AIDS patients, cleaning their bedpans, and otherwise nursing them. The work was therapeutic for everyone involved: It made Carde feel a little closer to Ben. It was a way of holding his hand again, even if the hand belonged to someone else.
And it was very different: “It was quite a change to go from worrying about security policy in the Middle East to cleaning up after people,” he notes.
Even in his grief, Carde started examining the systemnot a military system this time, but the city’s system for delivering AIDS services to those who can’t afford them. The way it worked seemed simple enough at first: The city paid contractors like Whitman-Walker to connect AIDS patients with drugs, housing, food, counseling, and whatever else they needed.
Carde had a small measure of hands-on experience with AIDS services. He and a few others who attend Westminster Presbyterian Church had formed a nonprofit organization that would eventually become Food & Friends. (The group now delivers 450 meals to people with AIDS six days a week.) And Carde knew Whitman-Walker director Jim Graham in passing. In the mid-’80s, Graham had given a presentation on HIV to a group of gay Yale alumsCarde inconspicuously attended a few meetingsthat led Carde to get tested in the first place.
But Carde didn’t know much about the problems of human-services delivery in the District, and he was astonished at what he found. He started slipping suggestions for improvements at Whitman-Walker to Graham and to Patricia Hawkins, the clinic’s associate executive director and now a close friend of Carde’s.
“It was strange. He was this Republican military guy. He was all kinds of things that I wasn’t, and yet he was brilliant,” Hawkins says.
At first blush, this white ex-Navy commander, proud Yale grad, and bossy workaholic would seem the least likely person to have influence over AIDS policy in a city where 77 percent of the AIDS patients are African-American. But those who have seen his work say he has overcome these surface liabilities with three qualities: He gets his facts right, he’s got AIDS himself, and he’s not intimidated by anything: city politics, his own illness, long hours of worknothing, they say, holds him back.
“He won’t twist the stats to get to his particular political end, and he’s very self-effacinghe always tells people not to give him any awards or anything,” says Phil Pannell, a black community activist who has also worked on gay and AIDS issues. “He always said there were other people more deserving than he, though who the hell they were is beyond me.”
As Carde learned more about the system, he became frustrated with simply working in personal care. Radical AIDS advocacy was in its heyday at the time, as ACT UP and like groups were winning big headlines. In 1991, Carde, three years and a lifetime away from the Pentagon, decided to take action himself.
On a fall day that year, he staged his first street protest, a hunger strike. He sat on a curb in front of the District Building holding a placard that read:
A Citizen With AIDS
Until the Mayor
Cuts Red Tape
Choking AIDS Programs
As a media stunt, it was a total failure. Carde was alone, and he began his demo on a Friday afternoon, after most news organizations had finished their political stories for the week. By Sunday, he had received a little attentionWTOP radio “literally stumbled on me,” he says. But then-Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly wasn’t holding any emergency meetings to address his concerns (which had to do with delayed AIDS contracts).
Hawkins persuaded then-Director of Human Services Vincent Gray to go see Carde on Sunday. “It was pouring rain, and I told Vince that Hank was going to kill himself over this. So he went down there, and Hank made him agree to all these things, and Vince committed himself. Only then did Hank go home,” Hawkins recalls.
Policywise, Carde was also becoming more active. He directed Whitman-Walker’s home-care program from 1990 to 1992, though he had his fingers in all clinic operations. “He has never been a person to complain and just complain. He comes in with a solution, and it’s always an extremely good idea. It’s not always workable, but it’s always a good idea,” Hawkins says.
It was that “not always workable” part that Carde couldn’t understand. In the military, at least in theory, solutions are solutions, and commanders decree them to be workable. Carde began phoning clinic employees and District officials with ideas about how to do their jobs betteroften at great expense of time and energy. Hawkins says Carde couldn’t seem to understand why people wouldn’t simply work harder.
“I said, ‘Hank, human services doesn’t pay a lot of money. You can’t transfer all of these people the minute they make a mistake,’” Hawkins remembers. “He said, ‘Now I know where all those military people went that I transferred for poor performanceto human services.’”
Carde thought everyone should live up to his manic work ethic. “Hank can do something in 20 minutes that takes others five or six hours,” agrees Christopher Bates, departing executive director of a citywide consortium of AIDS organizations and another close friend. “But he sees us all sometimes as people he’s commanding. I’ve yelled at him, ‘Hank, I don’t work for you!’”
Carde says his military experience and his AIDS activism eventually “melded”: “I entered this strange land of city politics, but I brought certain military characteristics that were useful. I mean, in the military, you might hear at 3 p.m. at the Pentagon that there’s a crisis at some island in the Pacific, and by 10 a.m. the next day you have to brief the Joint Chiefs of Staff. So you work all night, and in the morning you have graphs and answers to every possible question, and you expect to be scrutinized very closely.”
His training also helped him evaluate the crazy-quilt system for delivering AIDS services and devise strategies for streamlining intricate bureaucracies. He stood out in part because no one else was willing to delve into the minutiae (the city’s AIDS bureaucracy is chronically underinformed about the parameters of the epidemic and about the city’s contracting process). One big project of Carde’s, completed in November, is a bound proposal to “Restructure [Department of Human Services] Grants-Making.” It runs 50 pages and includes several graphs, charts, and other information “that I would bet many city contracting officials don’t have,” says Carde, with the sort of nerd’s vanity he often exhibits.
Carde eventually left Whitman-Walker to pursue his outside interests, and by 1992 he was helping the city establish its Comprehensive AIDS Resources and Education Consortium, which now has 63 member organizations. He also helped set up the planning council that distributes Ryan White funds.
Retirement also gave him the chance to expand his gay-rights work. In 1993, Carde appeared on Nightline to debate the ban on gays in the military. The same year, he traveled at his own expense to Camp Sister Spirit, a Mississippi lesbian retreat threatened with violence. He spent two weeks there setting up a security system for the two women who run the camp.
But by 1995, the city’s contracting mess was even worse, a casualty of citywide procurement snafus. AIDS-service organizations began relying on Carde to find out when or if they would receive payments for their work, and he discovered that no individual in the city government knew precisely how the paperwork flowed from contract to invoice to payment. So he started asking questions of the separate officials who handled the work.
“I was vacuuming up every piece of information I could get because many of these organizations were on the verge of collapse,” Carde says. (Most AIDS groups remained solvent, but several have curtailed their services because they couldn’t afford to wait for the city’s snail’s-pace reimbursements. City figures show that the city delayed paying $11.1 million in Ryan White funds from 1991 to 1995.)
Carde found the Post’s coverage of these difficulties lacking, and in March 1995 he issued an “award” to the paper’s health reporter, Amy Goldstein, “for the Laziest, Most Incompetent Reporting on AIDS Issues.” A few days later, his newsletter premiered.
When I asked her about Carde, Goldstein would only read a typed statement calling him “knowledgeable and committed.” Metropolitan editor Jo-Ann Armao said Carde had frequently corresponded with the paper to offer both praise and criticism. “Lazy is about the last word that I would use to describe [Goldstein],” Armao says.
Carde had separate, and perhaps deeper, problems with Washington City Paper. When I first approached him about an interview, in August 1995, he returned my call by angrily reading a statement that began, “Mr. Cloud, I assume you are a competent journalist and have a pencil ready and know how to listen carefully because I am going to speak about three minutes without interruption. If you do interrupt me, I shall immediately hang up.” I didn’t interrupt, and he went on to berate City Paper for its lack of AIDS coverage. Then he faxed me a copy of the statement.
But he also started faxing me the newsletter, and I was impressed. It provides the sort of blood-on-the-floor, naming-names journalism that advocates and reporters feed on. Though it’s called A Letter to Friends, it’s often a forum for Carde to pillory his enemies. He chastises specific bureaucrats for failing to speed AIDS contracts through the city’s financial-management system. Few others know or care who these people are, but Carde’s shitlist reaches deep into the government’s ranks. “There’s going to be one helluva ‘He’s gone!’ party” when he dies, Carde chuckles.
Recently, for instance, a major target has been Wanda Moorman, a procurement specialist at Human Services. In a March article, “The Testing of Wanda Moorman,” Carde called Moorman “a meticulous screener of procurement details but hardly an expediter.” Moorman didn’t return phone calls for this story.
But most of the newsletters dwell on policy rather than personality, tracking as many as 100 AIDS-related grants and contracts as they wend their way through the system. Eventually, city and federal officials took note of his tracking process, and of the sharp-as-nails ex-Navy commander who was showing up at all the AIDS-policy meetings.
Carde now sends A Letter to Friends to 140 of the city’s administrators, bureaucrats, overseers, and reporters, and he says at least 20 more have asked to receive it. Many, from Councilmember Jack Evans to Chief Financial Officer Anthony Williams to a senior control board official, read it at least occasionally. “Compared to some of the rags that come through, it’s one I look at,” says the control board staffer, who speaks with Carde at least once a weekmore time than he gives any other nongovernmental advocate in the city.
Whitman-Walker’s Hawkins notes that her counterparts around the country often ask to see the newsletter. “And the feds have enormous respect for Hank,” she says. “Without Hank, there’s no question in my mind that” the city would have received less funding for AIDS from federal officials.
“I’ve dealt with a lot of communities, but clearly Hank is at the top of the list in terms of the positive contributions he’s made,” says Steven Young of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Young oversees Ryan White grants for many communities, including the Washington area, and regularly reads the newsletter.
He credits Carde with first raising the issue that led the U.S. government last year to wrest check-writing power for Ryan White payments from the District, which had processed them late for years. D.C. is the only jurisdiction in the nation with such an arrangement.
Likewise, the city’s Medicaid chief, Paul Offner, says Carde helped convince him to seek to include water filters under the city’s Medicaid coverage for certain patients. (Last summer’s tap-water scare was particularly harrowing for people with compromised immune systems.) And Williams says he ordered that AIDS payments be given top priority by his finance departmentalong with public safety, child care, and a few other programsafter several meetings with Carde.
So Carde is clearly friendly with the reform cadre of Mayor Marion Barry’s administration. And although Carde is still reluctant to criticize Barry himselfhe doesn’t want to burn that particular bridgehe has repeatedly asked the mayor to do more to fix the contracting delays.
Carde minces no words when speaking about Barry’s city administrator. “I think Michael Rogers’ lack of management skill has been catastrophic for this Barry administration,” Carde says. And he criticizes Mel Wilson, head of the city’s Agency for HIV/AIDS, for not being more…well, more like Hank Carde. “I think he needs to show more advocacy for his agency and the community he is serving,” Carde says.
Rogers didn’t return a phone call, and Wilson wouldn’t comment on Carde’s rebuke. Carde has “great expertise, and certainly the time and energy to make his position clear,” Wilson says. Wilson’s restraint is common: Almost no one I spoke with about Carde was willing to fault him, in part because his visibly ill condition renders him more or less untouchable. “If anyone criticizes Hank in public, that’s the end of them,” says an AIDS activist.
Carde’s friend Hawkins does say that he has erred in the past. The two disagreed over how to spend extra federal money the city received two years ago. Carde argued for spending it on drug assistance, and he persuaded the Ryan White planning council to agree with him. Hawkins wanted more money for case managerscounselors who connect AIDS patients with services.
“It’s hard for him to understand how any adult could have trouble making doctor’s appointments,” Hawkins says. “He doesn’t need case management, even though he himself has a case manager, too….For many people, they need the guidance.” (It’s worth noting that Whitman-Walker would have received many of those case-management dollars that Carde redirected.)
ACT UP’s Steve Michael is the only AIDS activist willing to go after Carde on the record with any specificity or vigor. He says Carde generally pursues an insider strategy that leaves the establishment too comfortable. He says Carde should focus his criticism on the wording of the procurement lawslaws “designed to protect business interests,” Michael assertsand not the city employees who enforce them.
“I think Hank just doesn’t understand this,” Michael says. “Going after someone in the middle of bureaucracy, you just turn them into an evil witch. They’re not the real problem, and it can carry racial overtones in this city.” (Here it should be noted that Carde strongly opposed ACT UP’s application for the city’s needle-exchange contract. Whitman-Walker won the contract instead. And Carde vigorously endorsed an opponent of Michael’sa former source on the D.C. Council staff, Rob Robinsonin this week’s election for Ward 6 councilmember.)
Cynics might also charge that Carde arrived at AIDS activism quite late, only after it was well within his self-interest. (He was not only HIV-positive but had full-blown AIDS before he became a full-time activist.) And Carde can be sanctimoniousas with the Boy Scouts, he has left a handful of AIDS organizations in a huff over rather minor matters of principle.
For example, he departed the HIV Community Coalition after fellow board members rejected his proposal to provide transportation services to clients. “It was beyond our mission,” says Kris Martin, a coalition founder. “So he quit. But he never really leaves anywherehe still is a mentor and adviser on a day-to-day basis.” Others say Carde gained even more influence over the Ryan White planning council after he gave up his official seat and attended meetings as an independent advocate.
Finally, Carde undoubtedly uses his illness to win sympathy from government officials. “When we’re going to testify at the council or somewhere, we say, ‘Hank, cough,’” says Bates. “We’ve said, ‘We want you to look frail.’ I probably shouldn’t tell you that, but we have to do that. People don’t understand it unless they see a human face.”
Indeed, Carde seems to understand the power of the image well: Before a City Paper photographer visited his home, he delivered a set a photos to the paper showing him in bed next to his IV. “[The photos] might be of some use to you,” he said in a follow-up phone call.
In the end, though, criticizing Carde seems a little churlish. Fellow advocates say that when he dies, no one will be able to duplicate his level of knowledge and commitment. And to people with AIDS in the District, he has been an all-too-rare symbol that the ill shouldn’t simply disappear into a hospital bed. “To the PWA community, he’s almost a god,” says Michael Sainte-Andress, an AIDS activist.
“I don’t know what this city, the HIV community, would do without him,” says Philippa Lawson, executive director of the HIV Community Coalition. “I don’t think we could ever replace him.”
At the top of every fax Carde sendsand he sends hundreds each weekare the words “Commander Hank Carde.” He still loves the Navy, even as he fretsstillthat a military investigator will begin proceedings to strip him of his pension and benefits for being “actively” gay during his term of service.
And he remains orthodox in other ways, with a wardrobe full of Polo ties and his university’s credo”For God, for Country, and for Yale”prominently affixed to his wall in block letters. He has asked the health department’s Sloane, a fellow Yale grad, to write his obituary for the college magazine and emphasize that “he’s not a wimp.” (“Well, he’s certainly not that,” Sloane says.)
There’s something heartbreaking about his traditionalism, about his desire to look to his past and reconcile it with his present. But there is no other way for Hank Carde. He can’t ignore the sense of obligation he feels about AIDS. “It’s just this Yankee Presbyterian duty that gets me up every day,” he says.
Still, “given his druthers, he would rather have been with Ben. He’d much rather be out of here,” Hawkins believes. Indeed, Carde never considered meeting another man after Hartman’s death. “When someone gets inside you, you just don’t put that away. I still feel that I’m in a relationship with Ben,” he says. When he thinks of Ben, Carde sometimes fingers the Cartier ring Hartman gave hima ring the florist couldn’t really affordwhich now fits Carde’s gaunt finger only with metal inserts. “I do feel there’s an afterlife, and that I will be with Ben.”
“There’s a wide belief that if we ever run out of things for him to get angry about, we’ll lose him,” says Hawkins. “He has been so close so many times”close enough that they have spoken of funeral preparations, she says. “But something will come up, and soon enough another newsletter is on my desk.”
Carde is now absorbed with the current round of cuts in public health spending. He has emphasized his concerns to his allies in the city government and on the control board, but so far he has met with resistance. “They say there’s still waste and mismanagement to be cut,” Carde says, “but we don’t have time for that right now.”
So Carde plans to continue lobbying the council, hoping that if the city’s elected body speaks with one voice on the public health crisis, the control board and Congress will listen. “We can put the facts on the table, and they are a persuasive set of facts. But we’ve got to get to the table first,” Carde says. “We’re not asking for model programs or gushers of money. There are simply minimum funding levels for child health and tuberculosis and…clean water. We are asking for those minimums.”
As he says these things, Carde is sitting at his desk at home. Occasionally he glances at a photo of himself and Ben that he keeps there. Leery of investigators, Carde rarely let himself be photographed with Hartman. So now he makes do with this shot, a rotten picture snapped under a tent at a wedding. The picture contains a host of memories and a solitary question: What’s the price of duty? CP
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: James Watts.