So my little story on last week's reservoir-flushing—and, specifically, Randy Leonard's comments about the potential ills of drinking tainted urine—has gotten around quite a bit in the past couple of days. In it, you might remember, the commissioner supported the flushing by pointing out to skeptics that not all pee is sterile, especially if that pee contains blood, which might, in turn, as he put it, contain AIDS. (That's right... AIDS, not HIV...)
A national AIDS awareness group noticed and seized on it. And, locally, so did the Cascade AIDS Project. Leonard was accused of stigmatizing people with HIV, and retractions and public apologies were demanded. The outcry managed to vault my story onto the Oregonian's city hall blog. (Just Out also weighed in, but apparently couldn't be bothered to credit the source of the controversy.)
Leonard told advocates that he was sorry—truly sorry—that he used the example. But he isn't planning any public statement. According to a release from the Global Network of People Living With AIDS North America, he explained he "was not addressing whether or not infections would be diluted by a large quantity of water but, rather, rebutting those who were saying urine was sterile."
I caught up with Leonard this morning, and he told me he was no longer including a reference to HIV or AIDS when replying to folks about the reservoir flushing. He also reiterated he was sorry—really and truly sorry—he fired off the example without thinking about how it would be received, or whether it implied that Portlanders were actually at risk. But he also said it was "not factually wrong" to question the cleanliness of bloody urine in general. He sums up his contrition thusly:
"Someone might look at me and say I'm bald and useless, and they'd be right," the shiny-headed commissioner said, "but that doesn't mean they should say it."
Michael Kaplan, director of the Cascade AIDS Project, told me he gets that Leonard understands he ought not have said it and that he's "not the kind of person who likes to issue a public apology." But will Kaplan keep pushing? Nah.
"It's sad," Kaplan said, "but we're really not going to spend a lot more time on Randy Leonard."