Nasty Writers Guild races descend into faxing frenzy

As election mudslinging goes, it doesn’t get much worse than the Writers Guild of America West campaign.

Some Guild members say it’s politics as usual, but others claim it’s the worst they’ve ever seen.

Between a flurry of faxes, mailings and statements to the press, candidates and some outside parties have gone after each other with a viciousness worthy of the most lurid drugstore paperbacks.

More than 6,500 Guild members are being asked to make choices for officers and board members in a secret mailing due Sept. 21. But some members are wondering if, after all the backbiting, any of them even care.

“There’s an unfortunate history of name-calling and character assassination in Guild politics. It appears to be at a very high level in this election,” said board member John Riley. “It causes an important segment of our membership to avoid the electoral process altogether and the entire membership is the poorer for it.”

The election is crucial, say Guild insiders, because the officers and board members elected will oversee the negotiations for the contract, which lapses in 1995.

Some factions within the Guildare still angry about a seven-year contract extension negotiated by exec director Brian Walton that provided percentage raises across the board, but made no allowances for improving technology like cable and interactive.

Those issues have split the Guild into two angry camps, for and against the current administration.

Current prexy Del Reisman is stepping down, leaving Irma Kalish and Frank Pierson to battle for the top slot. But the hottest race is the veep contest between board member D.C. Fontana and current veep incumbent Carl Gottlieb.

Solid slates

Both candidates represent solid slates of would-be board members and if either is elected with his or her slate, they will clearly dictate Guild policy for the next few years.

Fontana represents board candidates John Boni, Gordon Bressack, Rocci Chatfield, Lynn Roth, Mel Sherer, Doris Silverton and Jack Sowards.

Others running for the board that are not tied to a slate include Robert Elisberg, Jim Staahl, Naomi Foner, Alan Swyer, Allen Estrin, Tom Blomquist, Michael A. Hoey and Charlie Haas.

In her candidate statement in the official guild mailing, Fontana denounced the current leaders, including Gottlieb, as a “passive voice” where an active voice is needed. She complained of the “tunnel vision” that plagues Gottlieb and the administration.

In an interview, she argued that the Guild should negotiate from a stronger position on issues like cable and syndication rates for writers, as well as residuals across the board.

Gottlieb loosely represents a collection of candidates, including John Wells for secretary-treasurer, and Joan Owens, Deborah Pratt, Don Segall, Greg Strangis, Larry Konner, Daryl Nickens, Don Mankiewicz and Michael Tolkin for the board.

“Her slate is angry and disappointed,” said Gottlieb. “Clearly we’re not as angry as that because they’re angry with us. We believe we’re doing the best job for the Guild and will continue to do the best job.”

He says he wants writers to get a better percentage of the true gross, especially in syndication, andhe has called for a revised constitution.

Both candidates are torn on the issue of a strike. Though her slate has been characterized as pro-strike, Fontana argues she would only advocate a work stoppage if negotiations broke down entirely.

But she says having a strike vote in your pocket can be an effective weapon at the bargaining table. “It’s a threat,” she said.

Gottlieb said he would only advocate a strike if absolutely necessary. “We’re getting what we can get and we’ll get more when it comes. But we’re not going to strike over a pie in the sky,” he said.

But the “Jaws” writer admitted that the “Guild has all it has because it strikes when it needs to.”

Guild members were irate last week and faxes flew after a hoax newsletter that purported to be from the GROW organization (Grass Roots Objectives for Writers) maligned and libeled Fontana’s slate using phrases like “mental midget” and “two-faced backstabber.”

At a board meeting Monday to discuss the hoax, board member Michael Russnow called for the resignation of Walton, claiming the exec director told him to his face that Russnow made him “puke.”

And Gottlieb said the hoax might have been planted by the Fontana slate to look like it came from the other side.

Board statement

The nastiness even caused the board to issue a statement on electioneering, which it has never done in previous elections, asking voters to stick to the issues.

“The board agrees with the sentiments expressed by many members in this and prior election seasons that negative personal attacks on candidates which are unrelated to their personal abilities to serve the Guild have no place in our elections,” the statement said.

Guild spokeswoman Cheryl Rhoden said the Guild was officially barred from taking sides in the election by federal labor guidelines.

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