Delegates to the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists have tapped veteran Los Angeles activist John Connolly as prexy to succeed Shelby Scott, who decided not to seek re-election.
About 300 AFTRA delegates, confabbing at the Radisson in St. Paul, Minn., selected Connolly by acclamation during Saturday’s closing session to head the 80,000-member performers union of broadcasters and actors. Scott, a Boston newscaster, had won four consecutive two-year terms but did not signal she would step down until Saturday.
“It was a tough decision to step down because I’ve had a wonderful eight years,” Scott told Daily Variety. “But I’ve spent half of that time on planes. I’ve rarely been able to play any golf, so I’m looking forward to doing that.”
Connolly, who has been national first VP for the last two years and was head of AFTRA’s negotiating team during the recent film-TV contract negotiations, had been rumored as the most likely successor for Scott.
Connolly, an energetic speaker who is never at a loss for words, stressed that he believes Scott has done an exceptional job. “I’ve got insanely huge shoes to fill,” he said. “I am extremely proud to be able to serve as AFTRA’s president. Our union has the broadest jurisdiction of any performers’ union in all the media. With the restructuring of our union and motivated, united leadership, I see only great things in our future.”
Connolly said he will emphasize consensus building within AFTRA; continued efforts to keep AFTRA’s staff organization flexible and quick to respond; expansion of organizing, particularly into digital production; and working with other unions, particularly the Screen Actors Guild.
He pointed out that delegates had taken time during Saturday’s dinner break to participate in an organizing picket line at a local hotel. AFTRA and SAG operate under a two-decade-old “Phase One” agreement providing for joint negotiation of contracts in areas of shared jurisdiction.
However, a merger between the orgs was defeated in early 1999 and the leaders of the unions clashed earlier this year when SAG asked AFTRA to cut the number of reps on its film-TV negotiating committee and AFTRA refused.
Additionally, SAG and AFTRA have not held a “summit meeting” to review jurisdictional questions in two years.
Connolly had been active in SAG politics and the formation of the Performers Alliance, which has advocated a more aggressive bargaining stance, but split from the group in 1998. The Alliance backed current SAG prexy William Daniels in his election two years ago.
Connolly said he will seek to re-start summit meetings with SAG and noted that members of both unions’ negotiating teams had been able to work together effectively during the film-TV contract talks during the spring and summer.
But he said there are no plans to re-launch a merger. “I think we need to let life move on but continue to collaborate closely with members of SAG,” Connolly said.
Connolly also said finances for AFTRA, which has been operating at a deficit, have improved significantly and promised the org will be in the black in its coming fiscal year.
Connolly has been an AFTRA board member for many years and heads the org’s finance committee. He has been a trustee of the Health & Retirement Funds since 1990. TV credits include “Loving,” “As The World Turns,” “General Hospital,” “The Young and the Restless,” “ER,” “The Practice,” “NYPD Blue,” “Any Day Now” and “Sessions,” for which he was nominated for a Cable Ace Award.
Scott will remain as a VP during the term. She is also co-chair of the Trustees of the AFTRA Health & Retirement Funds and AFTRA’s negotiating committee for its Network Code contract, on which negotiations start Oct. 16.
The pact expires Nov. 15. Delegates also named Bob Edwards (Washington/Baltimore), host of NPR’s “Morning Edition,” as first VP and Anne Gartlan, prexy of the New York Local, as second VP. Other VPs elected: Susan Boyd (Los Angeles); Dick Kay (Chicago); Belva Davis (San Francisco); David Hartley-Margolin (Denver); Jimmie Wright (Twin Cities); and Dave Corey (Miami). Mitchell McGuire (New York) was tapped as treasurer, and Bernie Alan (Los Angeles) was elected recording secretary.
Delegates also awarded the George Heller Memorial Gold Card to Gotham actress Martha Greenhouse, who served five terms as New York local prexy, and San Francisco attorney Don Tayer, who served as chief executive and legal counsel of AFTRA’s San Francisco Local from 1963 to 1988. AFTRA reps also voted for legal counsel to explore all ways to help Vanessa Leggett, a Houston writer jailed for refusing to turn over research materials.