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GMHC Still Searching for CEO Months After Firing Former Leader

By Mathew Katz | March 3, 2014 8:26am
 Former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn was a top choice for CEO at GMHC, sources said.
Former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn was a top choice for CEO at GMHC, sources said.
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DNAinfo/Colby Hamilton

CHELSEA — Months after firing its CEO, embattled AIDS service organization GMHC is still scrambling to find a new leader — and insiders are torn between the hunt for a high-profile name and its interim boss, sources said.

After its former CEO Marjorie Hill was forced out amid controversy, the nonprofit AIDS group's board initially hoped to tap former City Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn to become its next CEO, multiple sources within the organization told DNAinfo New York. Quinn has since turned the position down, sources said.

"Christine Quinn is a steadfast supporter of the mission and goals of GMHC," said Quinn spokesman Michael Morey. "That being said, she has not applied for the CEO position and does not intend to."

Roberta Kaplan, secretary of GMHC's board and head of the search committee, is a civil rights attorney and Quinn's friend of more than 20 years. Sources said she reached out to Quinn directly and asked her to consider the GMHC job. Kaplan is a national figure who represented Edith Windsor in the landmark Supreme Court case that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act last year.

While Quinn was never formerly interviewed for the paid leadership post, she remains a top pick among many board members, according to people familiar with the talks. 

"She was their No. 1 candidate," said one high-placed source within the organization who asked to remain anonymous. "They were really going to pursue her."

GMHC — which provides health and social services to HIV-positive people in the city and also runs the annual AIDS Walk — waited months to hire a firm to help search for a CEO after Hill's ouster, in hopes that Quinn would take the job and GMHC wouldn't need a search firm at all, sources said. The board eventually settled on Sandler Search Associates, which posted the job in February.

“This is an important time for GMHC as it selects new leadership for the years ahead," Kaplan and GMHC Chairman Myron Sulzberger Rolfe said in a joint statement. "The board understands that and is moving quickly but deliberately to select the best possible candidate to lead GMHC going forward.

"We understand that there have been rumors that the board has made decisions about possible candidates, there is no substance to any of those rumor," the statement continued. "It would be inappropriate for us to comment further given the necessary confidentiality of the selection process itself. Suffice it to say that we are very pleased with the number of highly qualified candidates who have expressed interest and we encourage any other qualified candidates to apply as soon as possible."

As a former City Council speaker and high-profile political figure, GMHC's search team viewed Quinn as someone who can raise the profile of the organization — and bring in much-needed fundraising dollars, sources said.

That's something they fear is lacking in GMHC's interim CEO and former longtime COO, Janet Weinberg, who took over the post in September after the board fired its beleaguered CEO Marjorie Hill, sources said. 

"They don't like Janet for the job. She's not a big name," said one person close to the board, who asked to remain anonymous.

Weinberg is seen by many insiders as an effective manager, but not someone who can bring in big fundraising dollars or publicity, the source said, adding, "But people are starting to wonder if no one else will want the job and she's going to get it."

Yet, since taking the interim position, Weinberg has helped bring in donors that had previously pulled out because of controversy that GMHC was overspending on exorbitant rent and executive salaries, sources said. Among the organizations that have returned to the fold include Broadway Cares, according to people close to the agency.

GMHC has also begun to search for less expensive office space in the hopes of reducing costs, a hot-button issue for supporters who were outraged the organization spent $389,000 per month on offices that remain largely empty, sources said.

"I'd make the argument for Janet Weinberg. She's super-competent," said Manny Rivera, who leads the nonprofit's Consumer Advisory Board. "I think [GMHC Board Chairman Mickey Rolfe] and Janet are taking the agency in a really positive direction and we should let them continue."

Still, the lure of a big-name CEO tempts some board members.

The job would likely come with a hefty paycheck — Hill made more than $230,000 in 2012, according to the agency's records.

Some board members hold out hope that Quinn will change her mind, sources said. Quinn, who has been relatively quiet since coming in third in the Democratic Primary last September after spending months as the front-runner, last month joined the board of Athlete Ally, an organization that fights homophobia in sports.

One other name that some board members and clients have pushed is Gary English, the former head of black HIV group People of Color in Crisis. English did not respond to a request for comment.

GMHC has come under fire over the past year from both the staff and the HIV-positive clients it supports, who have accused the nonprofit of wasting money on huge expenses like $389,000-per-month rent on an office that's largely empty. Several top executives have either quit or been forced out.