Current race has been marked by cordiality

Drama drives Hollywood, so it’s no surprise that WGA elections have provided the town with a regular dose of conflict and recurring characters. But this year, befitting the scribe tribe, there’s a new plot twist: The Writers Guild of America West election has taken a walk on the mild side.

Two years after a heated battle for the presidency between John Wells and Elias Davis, the current race has been marked by cordiality and the joint pledge by prexy candidates Patric Verrone and Christopher Keyser to wage a “positive” campaign. The two said they’re focused on “discussing the issues and concerns affecting our fellow members, and developing solutions to the problems facing all writers.”

The low-conflict tone is a marked contrast to 2009, which was characterized by hostility over how the 100-day writers strike of 2007-08 was handled.

Verrone and negotiating committee chairman John Bowman told WGA West members in an email blast back then that Wells had served a counterproductive and unauthorized role in his efforts to push for a deal that would end the strike. Wells — who had criticized Verrone for failing for forge a relationship with the Directors Guild of America during the strike — denied the allegations and sent out a blistering message that disputed Verrone and Bowman’s version of events, saying their missive was a “deliberate and not particularly clever attempt to mischaracterize what I was doing to try and help our cause during the strike.” Both sides quickly reached an accord to stop the attacks — though neither backed off on their assertions.

This year’s race is also notable for the absence of a Writers United slate, which has dominated WGA West politics since 2005. Writers United came to power then with Verrone heading the slate of activists disappointed by the 2001 and 2004 contracts. That faction immediately ousted John McLean as exec director and replaced him with David Young, placing a strong emphasis on organizing.

Now, Verrone is seeking to reoccupy the office he held beginning in 2005 and concluding in 2009, when he was prevented by WGA West rules from seeking a third consecutive term as president.

Verrone hasn’t detailed the reasons why Writers United isn’t prominent this time around, and told Variety there is “no interesting reason” for the absence of a Writers United slate, but said he supports longtime running mates David N. Weiss for secretary-treasurer and Howard A. Rodman for VP. He’s also recommending board incumbent Dan Wilcox (another frequent running mate) and first-time candidates Alfredo Barrios, John Brancato and Thania St. John.

Verrone’s campaign statement (available at verrone2011.com) promises that he’ll be an activist president, and pledges a return to a policy of external, internal and inter-union organizing.

“Our relationship with the WGA East has unnecessarily atrophied, as has our position in the Hollywood and American labor movement,” Verrone said. “For much of our 75-year history we have been at the vanguard of progressive thought and activism. Through careful and considered organizing efforts, tempered by a keen sense of member involvement and satisfaction, we can return there in the future.”

For his part, Keyser said in a posting on his campaign site (keyser4wga.com) that one of the positive trends in recent years has been a movement away from slates and from “homogeneity of ideas” being seen as a good thing.

“It is not,” he added. “It leads to mistakes. There are no two parties in this Guild and there never should be. No group of eight or 10 people have any business agreeing across the board and before the fact on exactly where we need to go and how to get there.

“We will be our best selves when we are led, not by a super-majority of like-minded people, but by a super-majority of open-minded people,” said Keyser’s post.

Keyser said he is endorsing Rodman for VP and that Weiss and Carl Gottlieb are both good candidates for secretary-treasurer. He also endorsed incumbent board members Billy Ray, Ian Deitchman, Carleton Eastlake and Linda Burstyn along with Nell Scovell.

Election ballots go out later this month, with results due to be announced around Sept. 16. And, if the candidates hold to their pledge, it looks like Hollywood will have to go without its semi-regular fix of WGA drama.

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