John Wells, creator and exec producer of “ER,” has been elected president of the Writers Guild of America West.

He beat Beth Sullivan, creator of “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,” by a 854 votes to 614. The union released the tally Friday.

Outgoing prexy Daniel Petrie Jr. became the guild’s VP. He received 771 votes to Carl Gottlieb’s 618.

Michael Mahern won re-election as secretary-treasurer with 896 votes, the most of any candidate.

All officers and board members serve two year terms.

Turnout was unusually low. Of the 8,208 eligible members, only 1,595 voted.

One guild official noted the 19% turnout may be due to minimal controversy. Candidates slung little mud in contrast to heated contests in years past.

Wells, a WGAW officer and board member since 1991, did raise some eyebrows with his aggressive campaign stance. With the guild contract set to expire in May 2001, Wells has said a strike is a very real possibility.

If the guild’s needs are met “in an atmosphere of respect for the writer as author and as the central creative force … so much the better,” Wells wrote in his campaign statement. If not, “we will be on strike.”

Wells made that point again after his victory. “We’re entering a contentious period,” he said. “We’re going to have some very difficult negotiations.”

Specifically, Wells wants to end vanity credits that tout “a film by” a certain director. He also wants to boost copyright protection and cable TV residuals.

“Everyone is aware of the areas that need to be addressed,” he said.

Wells is in Gotham working on his new drama “Third Watch.” He’s also running “The West Wing,” another hourlong skein bowing this fall on NBC.

“He’s going to have a lot on his plate, but John is extremely organized,” Petrie said.

Eight of the 16 guild board slots were contested.

Re-elected were Victoria Riskin, Irma Kalish, Ann Marcus, Terry Curtis Fox, Don M. Mankiewicz and Charles Edward Pogue.

Jonathan Estrin, a board member from 1994 to ’96, also won a seat. Patric M. Verrone joins the board for his first term.

Board member Scott Alexander opted not to run again, and term limits squeezed out Greg Strangis.