Guild sides reluctant to name candidates

While Sunday’s annual SAG membership meeting of the Hollywood division at the Marriott Downtown marked the start of the campaign for many candidates for the board, there weren’t many members willing to officially declare for the hot-potato office of guild president.

The meeting — open only to SAG members — included updates from first VP Anne-Marie Johnson, national interim exec director David White and Hollywood exec director Ilyanne Kichaven.

Aside from Alan Rosenberg saying conditionally three weeks ago that he’d seek a third two-year term, no one else has stepped forward. A variety of names have been rumored, including national board member Adam Arkin, Jason Alexander and former secretary-treasurer James Cromwell for the self-styled moderates of Unite for Strength; and Johnson, secretary-treasurer Connie Stevens and Martin Sheen for the self-styled progressives of Membership First.

But no confirmations have yet emerged. Instead, the two Hollywood-based factions have indicated they’ll wait a while longer before revealing the tops of their tickets.

“We’ll probably make that decision much closer to the filing deadline on July 23,” Johnson told Daily Variety on Sunday, prior to the start of the meeting.

Rosenberg had said three weeks ago he was running “as of now.” But that was minutes before the announcement of an overwhelming 78% ratification by members of the guild’s feature-primetime contract — despite fervent opposition by Rosenberg and Membership First. Rosenberg was noncommittal Sunday when asked whether he was still running. But it’s presumed within SAG circles that he would step aside should a higher-profile candidate step forward to carry the Membership First banner.

Given the yearlong drama over SAG’s contract, the upcoming board election will be watched closely by the rest of Hollywood. The moderates gained a narrow majority last fall and should be able to retain it — and possibly increase their power if they’re able to pick up more seats in Hollywood.

The Unite for Strength slate, led by Amy Brenneman, picked up five such slots last year. Those gains swung control away from Membership First for the first time in three years and led to the firing of national exec director Doug Allen.

Besides the presidency and the secretary-treasurer, about a third of the seats on the 71-member board are up for re-election. Results will be announced Sept. 24.

Sunday’s meeting drew about 200 members, with several campaign-minded ones circulating petitions prior to the start of the event. Most of those had actively opposed the contract, including Jeff Austin, Carole Elliott, Dan Kelpine, James McCauley, Paul Napier and Michele Santopietro.

Several candidates said the combination of the guild’s pro-ratification campaign and the recession made it difficult for the “vote no” message to resonate among members. Elliott said she remains perturbed SAG did not achieve jurisdiction on all low-budget work in new media.

“We are sanctioning nonunion work, and I think the founders of this union, like James Cagney, are turning over in their graves,” Elliott said. “The founders made sacrifices in order for the next generation to succeed, so we should try to do the same for the next generation.”

Sunday’s meeting also included recognition of national board members George Coe and Sumi Haru as recipients of the Ralph Morgan Award for service. Among those attending were national board members Frances Fisher, Elliott Gould, Kent McCord and Pamela Reed.

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