Longform

Q & A With Bob Kunst

Page 3 of 6

Part Two
I wanted to get focused in terms of: here are the clients, here are all the governments we have to deal with all over the place, here's the money we have to raise. Finally I'd had enough. So I said, "Arthur, I don't want you here any more. You're dividing the office, you're going crazy." I threw him out, literally. That was the start of all this.

Wouldn't you agree it sounds strange for the executive director to be throwing out the chairman of the board?

I could not take any more bullshit - the division, the racism, and everything else. I needed to deal with a focused group of people who are committed to keeping people alive. So I got rid of him.

Doesn't that feed into their criticism that you are an egomaniac?
Of course I'm an egomaniac. I'm a total idiot to be in this altogether. But the thing is, I have honesty and integrity and I created one hell of a program. If they had a problem, why didn't they start their own program? Why tear us apart?

It wasn't until last summer that your critics went to the Herald. Why not six months earlier, or even six months later?

Just before the Herald thing, Dominick was hospitalized, out of the office. But he had already been losing clients in the meals-on-wheels program because he wasn't keeping up the paperwork. So Marlene and I were going to switch the program to [CAN employee] Manny Estrada. The point is that we have lives at stake. The next thing I know, Savage and Starita show up, and I'm saying, "Wow, what's this all about?"

What it was about, says Magarelli, who replaced Kunst as executive director, and board chairman Tom Cunningham, is that Cure AIDS Now was on the brink of bankruptcy: The agency's records were a mess. The utility bills hadn't been paid. The landlord was about to evict the organization from its bungalow on South Dixie Highway because the rent hadn't been paid in three months. Even the auto insurance premiums on the food delivery vans were overdue. On top of everything, they allege, funds were going to waste on everything from bumper stickers to Kunst's personal travel expenses. They told the Herald Kunst had submitted $21,000 in travel expenses that he expected the agency to reimburse.

"We are a Dade County food program and Kunst did not want to concentrate on that fact," says Magarelli, who won't say whether he initiated the Herald's involvement. "This is not a political organization and that's what he was trying to turn it into. He lost sight of what this program is about and let his ego get in the way of helping people with AIDS. The fact was that someone had to do something before the agency was shut down."

At present Cure AIDS Now is undergoing an audit by a certified public accountant. (Magarelli says the accountant volunteered his time. Kunst says the City of Miami had already allocated the money to pay for it.)

Cunningham, who says Kunst's allegations are the ramblings of a bitter man, says, "If Bob Kunst took all the good will and energy he is capable of producing and used it for the betterment of the gay community and the AIDS-infected community, we could take on some wonderful projects right here in Dade County. But he would rather spread himself all over the world and build a name for himself than build a safe haven right here at home for people with AIDS. If he had taken the money that was blown on travel, do you know what we could have accomplished right here in Dade County?"

You say the $30,000 the agency owed was a result of cutbacks in funding. What about the $21,000 in travel and other expenses?

I never even submitted an official request for reimbursement. I would say $12,000 of that money was for travel expenses I paid out of my pocket, and I took the attitude that if at some point there was some money donated for travel that could be used to reimburse me, fine. If not, I would just have to eat it. The rest of that money was used to keep the operation going. There were times when we didn't have enough money for payroll because we hadn't gotten the check from the county, or all the papers weren't ready to submit the check. And I would take the money out of my pocket. We needed money for the phone bill, I would take money out of my pocket; we needed money for this, I would take it out of my pocket. The people running the place now still have my last ten paychecks. You didn't see that in the Herald.

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William Labbee