CHELSEA — Embattled AIDS service organization GMHC named veteran health care advocate Kelsey Louie as its new CEO, ending a monthslong search for a new leader, officials announced Tuesday.
Louie comes to GMHC after spending more than six years at Harlem United, where he was most recently appointed chief operating officer in October, managing a staff of 350.
While running Harlem United's supportive housing unit, Louie helped create hundreds of apartments for people living with HIV and AIDS, nearly doubling the number of the nonprofit's housing units to 586.
He also worked at GMHC, serving as its coordinator of counseling and education in 2006.
Louie will take over GMHC from its current COO, Janet Weinberg, who had been acting as interim CEO since former leader Marjorie Hill was fired in September.
In a release, the organization set an ambitious goal of "ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York state by 2020" and bringing new infections below 730 per year.
“I’m thrilled and humbled by the opportunity to join the incredible team of dedicated staff and board members at GMHC, one of our city’s most important LGBT institutions,” Louie said in a statement.
“After 30 years, GMHC continues to lead our community on the front lines of the fight against HIV/AIDS. I look forward to getting started and hearing more from GMHC’s clients, along with all of those in our community with a stake in the organization, to ensure everyone’s voice is included as we move forward to strengthen and expand GMHC’s capacity and vital work.”
Louie's appointment comes as GMHC is still recovering from ongoing criticism over how it spends its money, particularly on a $389,000-a-month new office that is largely empty and is draining the organization of much-needed funds, critics say.
As DNAinfo New York first reported, the agency spends millions of dollars a year on rent and expenses, while cutting programs and slashing staff salaries.
GMHC's board has said it has already begun to look into more affordable options for a new office.
Hill, GMHC's former CEO, was canned by the board after staff and clients publicly rose up against her leadership, publishing a letter saying they had lost confidence in her.
“GMHC firmly believes that, in this moment in history, we can — and must — eradicate AIDS as an epidemic," Myron Rofle, the chair of the organization's board, said in a statement. "Doing so will require a deeper level of partnership between the city, the state, GMHC and other community-based agencies than ever before to ensure we broaden the reach of our efforts as widely as possible and maximize our impact."
Clients and insiders had mixed reactions on Louie's appointment. Since Louie is a noted administrator of a service organization, some said his appointment was a step away from the activist roots of GMHC founder Larry Kramer.
"There's a rift in the agency over its direction — do we want to provide services or do we want to be a leader in the fight against HIV and AIDS?" said one client who asked not to be identified.
But a GMHC staffer, who also asked not to be identified, said that bringing in an experienced manager could help the organization get back on track.
"He seems competent and able to get the job done. I'm happy to have someone who knows what he's doing after all the troubles we've had," the staff member said.
Even the CEO search process was fraught with tensions, insiders said. The head of the search committee, famed civil rights lawyer Roberta Kaplan, initially pushed for former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to take the role, sources said.
Clients also slammed the search process for being opaque and for not including any black, Latino or HIV-positive people on the search committee. Following DNAinfo's coverage of the search committee controversy, GMHC quietly appointed two new members to have a say in the process: Felix Lopez, the director of the organization's Legal Department, who is Latino, and Consumer Advisory Board chairman Manny Rivera, who is black, Latino and openly HIV-positive, sources said.
Louie's appointment drew praise from other AIDS service organizations, including from his former home at Harlem United.
“Kelsey is a great leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS and an innovator on the front lines of delivering services to the clients we serve. He has been an invaluable member of the Harlem United team in his seven years here, demonstrating an incredible amount of enthusiasm, focus and commitment," said Steven Bussey, CEO of Harlem United, in a statement.
“On behalf of our board, clients and staff, we wish him only the best in this next endeavor and look forward to continuing to work with him in his new role."