Ken Howard’s tossed his hat in the ring for president of the Screen Actors Guild as head of the Unite for Strength ticket, with the self-styled moderates aiming to strengthen their hold on SAG’s national board.
Howard, a 40-year showbiz vet and current board member, will be joined on the ticket by former board member Amy Aquino for the secretary-treasurer slot. Unite for Strength named 33 other Hollywood division candidates for its slate, including Christian Clemenson (“Boston Legal”), Clark Gregg (“the New Adventures of Old Christine”), Dule Hill, Hill Harper (“CSI: NY”), Michael O’Keefe, Nancy Travis, Ned Vaughn and Marcia Wallace.
Thursday’s announcement portends a bruising campaign as Howard and Aquino blasted the hardline Membership First, which hasn’t unveiled its candidates. Current SAG president Alan Rosenberg has been waffling as to whether he’ll seek a third two-year term as head of Membership First.
“I’m running for president as a Unite for Strength candidate because I believe the only way actors will get our fair share of the pie is if we’re united both internally and with our labor partners,” Howard said. “If SAG members elect me and my fellow Unite for Strength candidates, we’ll make a clean break with the divisive leadership approach of Membership First and focus on building maximum unity with AFTRA and other entertainment guilds to give us real power when we sit down to negotiate contracts.”
Howard received an Emmy nomination last week for “Grey Gardens.” He’s probably best known for portraying the coach in TV series “The White Shadow.”Aquino accused Membership First — which controlled the national board from 2005 until losing last fall — of saddling SAG with a $6.5 million deficit.
“Their yearlong delay in negotiating the TV/theatrical contract, their fight with AFTRA and other reckless decisions have caused deep-rooted fiscal damage,” she said. “UFS has begun to address this crisis by resolving SAG’s two major contracts and supporting measures to streamline guild operations.”
Membership First supporters have asserted that the moderates took away SAG’s bargaining leverage by refusing to support a strike authorization during the contract negotiation with the congloms.
Unite for Strength, led by Amy Brenneman, won five seats in last fall’s election after running on a platform stressing the need to work more closely with AFTRA, with the goal of merging the two performers unions. That led to January’s ousting of national exec director Doug Allen, two weeks after a 28-hour filibuster.
Howard, who scored the fifth highest vote total last fall among the 80 Hollywood division candidates, told Daily Variety that he gradually came to the decision to run for president due to what he sees as a need for a unified approach among showbiz unions at negotiations with companies.
“At one point, Alan Rosenberg called us gutless, dishonest and immoral,” he recalled. “I think that’s pretty counterproductive.”
The announcement of the slate came at the Thursday filing deadline. Membership First, which lost control of the national board in the fall, has opted to announce its slate Sunday at an 11 a.m. fund-raiser at the Beverly Hills home of board members Joe Bologna and Renee Taylor, with Rosenberg and secretary-treasurer Connie Stevens hosting.
Rosenberg said conditionally on June 9 that he’d seek a third two-year term. But he may have lost his enthusiasm for another run after SAG members gave a strong endorsement in ratifying SAG’s feature-primetime contract — despite fervent opposition by Rosenberg and Membership First, which insisted that SAG needed to obtain sweeter terms in the new-media provisions.
SAG first VP Anne-Marie Johnson — a longtime Rosenberg ally — may instead be the Membership First choice for president.
In addition, people close to board member Seymour Cassel say he may run as an independent, although it’s uncertain whether he’s eligible. Cassel narrowly lost to Rosenberg two years ago after running on a platform that was more assertive than Rosenberg’s.
About a third of the 71 seats on the SAG board are up for re-election. SAG won’t announce the official candidates’ list until Aug. 10 due to the need to check candidate eligibility; election results will be announced Sept. 24.
Other Unite for Strength candidates include current national board alternates L. Scott Caldwell, Gabrielle Carteris, Assaf Cohen, Tim DeKay, Clyde Kusatsu, Doug Savant, William Smitrovich, Richard Speight and Stacey Travis along with Michelle Allsopp, Ellen Crawford, Patrick Fabian, Richard Fancy, Jason George, Gregory Itzin, David Lawrence, Dawnn Lewis, John Carroll Lynch, D.W. Moffett, Jenny O’Hara, Mandy Steckelberg, Amir Talai, Woody Schultz, Bob Bergen and Conrad Palmisano.
The United Screen Actors Nationwide — which has dominated the seats repping New York in recent years — announced Thursday it’s endorsing Howard and Aquino. The group also announced it’s running national board member and VP Mike Hodge for New York Division President, replacing Sam Freed.
“The New York membership couldn’t have a better choice than Mike Hodge”, Freed said. “Mike knows how to get things done for the membership.”Freed’s seeking a board seat as part of the USAN slate including Manny Alfaro, Dave Bachman, Marc Baron, Sheila Head, Joe Narciso, Jay Potter, John Rothman, Kevin Scullin, Sharon Washington and Liz Zazzi. USAN said it also endorsed independent candidates Monica Trombetta and Justin Barrett.
Washington and Zazzi are current national board members. New York reps have about 25% of the seats on the national board.