Longform

Q & A With Bob Kunst

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To the boardmembers who voted to fire him as executive director, it was fitting that Kunst was on another continent on August 12, while his fate was being decided in Coconut Grove. Kunst's globe-trotting, after all, was at the heart of CAN's internal strife. But his removal marked more than merely a reshuffling of the ranks within a troubled AIDS organization; it irrevocably altered the face of gay politics in Dade County. The man who for fifteen years had been the self-appointed - if unwelcome - spokesman for the homosexual community had suddenly found himself without a soapbox.

Since being fired, Kunst has devoted himself to personal projects, traveling to Europe in an attempt to organize a visit by world leaders to Dachau. In speaking about his rift with CAN, he is angry and frustrated one moment, philosophical and forlorn the next. The bottom line, he argues, is that Bob Kunst the international AIDS warrior was dragged into a struggle with small minds preoccupied with small concerns. And in the end, he says, Dade's estimated 150,000 to 200,000 HIV-positive citizens were the losers.

On Monday, August 12, 1991, you were fired as executive director of Cure AIDS Now by the board of directors. What happened?

There was a meeting on August 8. I'm out of town, but from my understanding, it was for a vote of confidence for myself. They decided they were going to rewrite my position to conform with whatever the county wanted. It was no big deal. The meeting on Monday, August 12, was strictly to write bylaws on the group in general in terms of what the county was asking for. It wasn't even an official board meeting. It was a committee meeting. Here is [board chairman] Tom Cunningham, who thinks he's so brilliant and isn't, maneuvering with [board member] Barbara Gottlieb to bring Dominick Magarelli back in. Cunningham and Joe Hudson and Brett Woods have only been on the board for a couple of weeks. I'm literally at Auschwitz when all of this going on. When I get to Budapest, I call home and here's my lover saying, "Cameras are here. Nobody can phone you. They're all screaming bloody murder. You've been fired." My response is, "For crying out loud, all this negative energy." And that's what it has continued to be. A lot of negative energy.

The real controversy started with the first Herald article. How and why do you think this article came about?

Because Dominick Magarelli gave the Herald copies of my bills and whatnot. He wanted the program to be a meals-on-wheels program only. He wanted to get rid of me and an internalized crisis like this fed right into Joe Gersten and the other AIDS groups because I was the only bigmouth opening up against everybody. They were asking, "How do you shut Kunst up and how do you keep him out of sight, and how do you reduce his credibility? How do you get him out of the way?"

I was not on very good terms with the Herald. Starita and [Herald associate editor] Jim Savage come to the office, they ask me every question, I give them every answer, I tell them the $30,000 [shortfall] is because the county cut our funds along with every other agency. It has nothing to do with my travel expenses, not a dime of which is coming from government money. This is all from private people like Jack Campbell and other people I go to and say, "Look, this is a project I'm working on. Would you like to support it? It's important for us to be there because this is what is going to happen." They might donate the money directly to Cure AIDS Now specifically for travel, and that would go into a separate account. Or, for example, Campbell owns a travel agency, so he might just write me the travel tickets and handle it that way. That's how I always operated for the last six years in terms of getting private funds. But that didn't stop Starita and Savage from playing their dirty game.

Did Magarelli initiate contact with the Herald?
Yes. And the Herald never talked to any of my people. All they did was go to Dominick and his people. None of them went to [CAN administrator] Marlene Arribas or any of my board of directors.

What reason would Magarelli have for going after you?
A year earlier, Arthur Calabrese, who is Dominick's best friend, was chairman of the board, and he starts asking questions like, "Why do we need such high phone bills?" His argument was we've got to cut the expenses. My argument was you have to raise the funds to pay for the phone bills and other expenses. Then there was the racism. Both Arthur and Dominick were just super racists, so I'm playing policeman between the Hispanics and Anglos, the blacks and Haitians.

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William Labbee