Kenneth Cole Steps Down as amfAR Chairman

Theo Wargo/amfAR/Getty Images
Kenneth Cole

The designer made the announcement Wednesday night during the organization’s annual gala at Cipriani Wall Street.

Kenneth Cole is stepping down as amfAR chairman, the designer announced Wednesday night at the charity's annual gala in New York.

“Today my 14-year term as chairman concludes,” he said. “It has been a true privilege to have worked alongside so many talented, dedicated and committed individuals. Through my ongoing work as a UN AIDS ambassador and with the End AIDS Coalition, I remain personally committed to aligning resources and galvanizing global action and working with, in fact, amfAR to make AIDS history. Thank you very much.”

Cole, named chairman of the American Foundation for AIDS Research in 2004, has been under pressure to resign from the charity since November, when news emerged that he allegedly had funneled $600,000 from a 2015 amfAR auction in Cannes to Harvey Weinstein, who reportedly used the funds to repay the American Repertory Theater, which staged a 2014 trial run of Finding Neverland in Cambridge, Massachusetts, before the production moved to Broadway in 2015. After learning of the alleged deal between Cole and Weinstein — a plan to split proceeds from lots that had been arranged by Weinstein for the auction, including a photo shoot with Mario Testino and tickets to Oscar Night parties — several amfAR members resigned in protest, while an open letter signed by Larry Kramer, Greg Louganis and other AIDS activists called for Cole’s resignation.

Following the ordeal, as investigations into Weinstein's sexual misconduct deepened and at which time he was made aware of Ronan Farrow's piece, Cole reportedly asked members of the board to sign a nondisclosure agreement preventing them from speaking about Weinstein; in return, Weinstein would make a million-dollar donation if all board members signed.

In an email, Cole allegedly wrote of the non-disclosure agreement that it meant "we won't involve ourselves in Harvey's affairs in the future." The scandal begs the question of what Cole knew about Weinstein, his relationship with amfAR and his impending downfall that perhaps the rest of the board did not. All but four members signed it.

Prior to the conclusion of Wednesday night’s gala, which raised $1.6 million for amfAR, Cole released a formal statement, which attributed his resignation to term limits, “which is why I, along with four of my colleagues, will be stepping down from the board.”

“I've proudly served on the board of amfAR for more than 30 years, and as its chairman for the last 14. During that time, we've raised hundreds of millions of dollars for groundbreaking research and public advocacy campaigns that continue to save lives across the globe," Cole said in a statement. "The amfAR board has adopted a number of governance reforms that will ensure our beloved organization can continue to thrive. One of these is instituting term limits for board members, which is why I, along with four of my colleagues, will be stepping down from the board. In the interim, I will continue to serve as an honorary chairman and be part of the process for selecting a new and committed chairman. Though I am stepping aside, I am not stepping away from this fight. I will continue in my role as an International Good Will Ambassador on behalf of UNAIDS, and as Chairman of the End AIDS Coalition."

Cole has not responded to requests for further comment.

Sam Reed contributed to this report.

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