WGAW nixes nod to Riskin

Following a month of bitter infighting, the Writers Guild of America West board has voted 11-3 to rescind its previous decision bestowing its Valentine Davies Award for service to former president Victoria Riskin.

Action — taken Monday night at the regular monthly board meeting — has heightened a spirited election campaign and reopened the controversies surrounding Riskin’s resignation from the presidency in early 2004. Riskin ankled the post after it was discovered she was ineligible to seek re-election in 2003 because she hadn’t worked enough to qualify for active membership.

The board of directors also decided Monday it won’t present the Davies award this year.

Presidential candidates Ted Elliott and Patric Verrone came down on different sides of Monday’s vote. Elliott, who’s heading the Common Sense slate, voted to rescind; Verrone, who’s heading the New WGA slate, backed giving Riskin the award.

Joining Elliott in voting to rescind were John Bowman, Carl Gottlieb, Irma Kalish, J.F. Lawton, Craig Mazin, Aaron Mendelsohn, Tim O’Donnell, Melissa Rosenberg, Alex Sokoloff and Larry Wilmore. Verrone was joined by Elias Davis and Don Mankiewicz; David N. Weiss abstained.

The Davies Award is given to “writers who have contributed to the entertainment industry, as well as the community at large, and who have brought dignity and honor to the profession of writing everywhere.” Nominations come from a selection committee that’s composed of past award winners.

Heated discussion over the award had dominated the past month on the WriterAction.com Web site, which is limited to postings by WGA members. Opponents contended Riskin didn’t deserve the award because her resignation had besmirched the reputation of the WGA West.

‘Orwellian twist’

“Just when I thought the guild had run out of embarrassing surprises, along comes this Orwellian twist of presenting an award that most reminds me of the time when Henry Kissinger was gifted with the Nobel Peace Prize,” Larry Gelbart wrote recently. “How many off-ramps from serious matters can this membership survive?”

The panel had originally decided in a confidential 7-6 vote July 25 to follow the recommendation of its awards committee. In his nomination of Riskin, Allan Burns cited her work in such orgs as Human Rights Watch, the Tibetan Aid Project, American Film Institute, the Museum of Television and Radio and the Intl. Women’s Forum along with her activism in opposing media monopolies while she was WGA West president.

Burns told Daily Variety he was “stunned” at the board’s vote. He insisted the awards panel tapped Riskin strictly because of her qualifications and asserted that there was no concern that naming Riskin would create any subsequent controversy.

“It’s a slap in the face to the awards committee,” Burns added. “I don’t think the board understands what the award is about.”

When Riskin resigned, the board appointed then-VP Charles Holland to the presidency, only to see him resign two months later after fudging details about his military service on his resume. Last year’s election rerun for the rest of Riskin’s term was supervised by the Dept. of Labor, which concluded that the WGA failed to properly qualify Riskin’s candidacy.

Riskin and husband, David Rintels, hosted a campaign party earlier this month at their Montecito home for Verrone, Weiss and board candidates Joan Meyerson, Tom Schulman and Dan Wilcox.

Riskin ‘disappointed’

Riskin told Daily Variety she was “disappointed” by the board’s action. “I was honored and thrilled to receive the nomination from the committee, which is composed of some of the most distinguished members of the guild, and pleased when the board voted to support that action,” she said.

Verrone was not available for comment Tuesday.

Riskin first won the presidency in 2001 over Michael Mahern and was re-elected in 2003 over Eric Hughes after a contentious campaign.

Following complaints that Riskin had been ineligible in the latter contest, the WGA West board asked for a probe by independent investigator William Gould IV, former head of the National Labor Relations Board. Gould’s report concluded her active membership had lapsed in June 2003 as she had not worked under a WGA contract during the previous four years.

Current WGA West president Daniel Petrie Jr., who defeated Hughes said in a statement Tuesday he was distressed over disclosure of the board’s confidential July 25 vote and the subsequent impact on the reputations of Riskin and the WGA.

“I would hope that these judgments would be tempered by compassion for someone who has already suffered and, for that matter, for a Guild that has already suffered,” he said.

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