Now that she's challenger, Harper's ready

Version 2.0 of SAG’s election campaign has launched with a role reversal: Valerie Harper is challenging Melissa Gilbert to a debate.

Harper had refused Gilbert’s debate challenge in the summer, contending that debating would create negative publicity for the Screen Actors Guild. Gilbert then hammered Harper, who spent much of the campaign performing on Broadway, over the refusal and wound up winning the presidential election Nov. 2 by nearly 1,600 votes.

But SAG’s elections committee, citing procedural violations by staff and Sequoia Voting Systems, tossed out the results for president, secretary and treasurer, and ordered that the vote be held again. Ballots are to be sent out Feb. 11 and are due back March 8.

Bitter tone

Harper, in a letter to Gilbert, cited the bitter tone of the campaign and the bungling of the election in explaining the debate query.

“Given the tenor of your 2001 campaign (for instance: literature asking, ‘Why is Valerie hiding?,’ when you knew I was doing eight shows a week on the New York stage), the seriously botched election, the numerous challenges to that process, including those made by two (national) election winners, Kent McCord and Elliott Gould, and given the membership’s right to know, I now agree to debate the critical issues before SAG.”

McCord won the treasurer’s spot by 34 votes while Gould took the secretary’s slot by over 5,000.

Just for members

Harper told Daily Variety she would prefer that attendance at the debate be limited to SAG members. “There were lies and untruths during the campaign that I’d like to clear up,” she added.

Harper also said the most likely day would be a Monday, when she is not performing in “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife,” and that she would welcome the two other presidential candidates, Angeltompkins and Eugene Boggs, to participate.

Both Boggs, who came in third with more than 2,500 votes, and Angeltompkins said they would agree to debate.

Gilbert was not available for comment. When Harper refused to debate last summer, Gilbert said in response, “It would be inappropriate for us as candidates to expect the membership to make an informed decision about who to vote for, for the office of president of the Screen Actors Guild without giving them the opportunity to hear the candidates debate and discuss the issues in a setting that is more conducive to free-flowing discussion.”

A group of her supporters have requested that the national board, which meets Monday, throw out the elections committee decision due to allegations that the committee was not validly constituted.

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