Johnson to run for SAG president

Membership First names her official candidate

Anne-Marie Johnson is the official presidential candidate for the Membership First ticket, hoping to regain control of the Screen Actors Guild national board, as Alan Rosenberg opts to step aside.

“Fairly or unfairly, I’m a bit tainted in terms of getting elected again,” Rosenberg told Daily Variety at a fund-raising event Sunday at the home of national board members Joe Bologna and Renee Taylor. “For me, this is all about our team winning.”

Rosenberg, who said conditionally last month that he was running for a third two-year term, said he is stepping aside because Johnson has a better shot at winning after he’s been so strongly identified with the numerous bruising battles within SAG for the past four years. He had stridently opposed ratification of SAG’s feature-primetime deal but was unpersuasive as a surprisingly high 78% of members endorsed the pact.

Johnson will face Ken Howard and possibly Seymour Cassel for the presidency. Howard is heading the Unite for Strength ticket as the self-styled moderates seek to increase their narrow board majority, first achieved last fall when he and four others were elected.

In a brief speech at the fundraiser, Johnson stressed that she’s more experienced than Howard at a time when SAG faces multiple challenges on such fronts as prepping for the next round of contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, mandated to go from Oct. 1 to Nov. 15 next year.

“There’s no time for learning on the job,” she said. “I’ve been a member of six SAG negotiating committees, and Ken has spent one year on the national board.”

Johnson also reminded supporters that Membership First needs to present a united front for the elections, which will conclude Sept. 24. “We don’t have time for petty differences,” she added.

The Membership First ticket will also feature Connie Stevens, who’s seeking a third term as secretary-treasurer against a challenge from Unite for Strength’s Amy Aquino.

And Membership First’s board slate contains some star power with Martin Sheen, Ed Harris, former SAG president Ed Asner and former NFL player Bernie Casey running for Hollywood Division board seats while Melissa Leo is seeking a New York seat. Rosenberg has opted to run for the Hollywood board along with Membership First incumbents Bologna, Taylor, George Coe, Elliott Gould, Robert Hays, David Jolliffe and Diane Ladd.

Rosenberg joined with Johnson, Ladd and Kent McCord in a lawsuit against SAG earlier this year to unsuccessfully overturn the moderates’ dismissal of national exec director Doug Allen. In a sign that the campaign will be bitter, New York president Sam Freed has noted that the legal costs to SAG for defending the suit have topped $170,000.

As for Cassel, it’s uncertain if he’ll be a factor in the race since he’s filed a nominating petition to run as an independent. But he may be ineligible to run since an internal trial board found him guilty of “conduct unbecoming” of a member in connection with an incident at the May 21 informational meeting at the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel.

Cassel, who’s advocated many Membership First positions while on the board, nearly beat Rosenberg two years ago. Cassel hasn’t commented about his eligibility, and Johnson had no comment Sunday.

Membership First is also backing more than half a dozen board candidates in New York, including Leo, Tony Lo Bianco, Celia Weston, Mitch Green, Matt Mulhern and Erik-Anders Nilsson, along with candidates in Chicago and San Diego. The moderates have controlled the non-Hollywood board seats for many years, making it unlikely that Membership First will be able to regain control of the board.

But Rosenberg predicted that the faction will do just that.

Other members of the Membership First slate seeking Hollywood Divison seats include Renee Aubry, Jane Austin, Jeff Austin, Clancy Brown, Jordana Capra, David Clennon, Brett Cullen, Joe d’Angerio, Anne DeSalvo, Anthony DeSantis, John Diehl, Kevin Dobson, Ron Harper, Hector Herrera, Marcus Lindsey, France Nuyen, Alan Ruck, Michele Santopietro and Charles Shaughnessy.

And in New York, the moderate United Screen Actors Nationwide faction — which has dominated the seats repping New York in recent years — has also announced it’s endorsing Howard and Aquino. The group also announced it’s running national board member Mike Hodge for New York Division president, replacing Freed.

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