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Kerrey: “No decision yet” on MPAA gig

Former Senator in line for H'w'd's top lobbyist role.

According to Bob Kerrey, there is “No decision yet” whether he will take the job of Motion Picture Assn. of America chief.

Kerrey’s email response to Variety arrived Friday afternoon PST. Earlier in the day, studio sources had confirmed that the former Nebraska governor is in talks for the post.

If a deal happens, Kerrey would succeed Dan Glickman, who also was a former lawmaker from the neighboring heartland state of Kansas. Glickman took the post in 2004 and left April 1 to serve as the head of Refugees Intl., and the MPAA post has been filled in the interim by the org’s president, Bob Pisano.

Kerrey’s name has been floated as a possible successor for a number of weeks. He spent much of Friday at commencement ceremonies at Madison Square Garden for The New School, where he has served as president since 2001. He already had announced that he would depart that post when his contract expires in 2011.

The MPAA role is considered one of the most lucrative lobbying posts in Washington, with a salary that exceeds $1 million per year and the luster than comes with being the chief spokesman in the Beltway for the movie business. It also is fraught with challenges, far different than those faced by Jack Valenti, the famed MPAA chairman who held the post from 1966 to 2004. Among other things, it’s ever more difficult to find consensus among studios head, given the divergent agendas of their media conglom parents.

If Kerrey ends up in the post, it will signal that studios are seeking a high-profile name familiar in Washington circles, after much speculation as to who would get the spot and what it meant for the direction of the motion picture business’s chief lobbying arm. There had been speculation that the studios would in some way restructure the position, particularly as grapples with new ways to address what has been one of the lobbying org’s chief missions: fighting piracy.

Even before Glickman announced last fall that he would depart, a number of names had surfaced as possible successors, including Pisano, former Tennessee congressman Harold Ford Jr., and a number of studio government affairs officials.

Kerrey, 66, served in the Senate in Nebraska from 1989 to 2001 and as governor of the state from 1983 to 1987. He ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992, and, as a Medal of Honor recipient in Vietnam, was viewed as a leading prospect. But his candidacy never caught fire, and he dropped out of the race when he had a disappointing finish in early states.

Even though it has been nearly a decade since he was in office, Kerrey still has strong ties in Washington. He served on the 9/11 Commission, and was a big champion of the Senate candidacies of James Webb in 2006 and Al Franken in 2008, raising money and appearing at campaign events for them.

Glickman had that advantage as well, but his tenure was initially hampered as a Democrat lobbying a Republican Congress, and some GOP lawmakers, intent on filling the lobbying ranks with veterans of their own party, were vocal in their resentment.

Kerrey did develop a reputation in his Senate career for bipartisan friendships, and somewhat of an independent streak. Among his friends is John McCain, a fellow Vietnam veteran, who he invited to speak at New School in 2006 and, after an outcry from students, refused to rescind the invite.

Kerrey’s entertainment industry ties are less apparent. As governor, he made efforts to lure film production to the state, but it was while dating Debra Winger, then filming “Terms of Endearment,” that he was vaulted into the celebrity press. During his years in the Senate, he tapped Hollywood donors for financial support, and further burnished his national credentials when he served as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for the 1996 cycle.

His experience at New School has been bumpy at times, as he has been in some high-profile clashes with students and faculty, and the university has gone through a succession of provosts. But in press interviews, Kerrey has defended his leadership, as the school re-branded itself, went through a period of significant expansion and underwent efforts to make its eight schools more cohesive.

Serving on the MPAA’s search committee have been Jim Gianopulos of Fox, Barry Meyer of Warner Bros., Michael Lynton of Sony and Alan Braverman, exec VP and general counsel of Disney. The MPAA had also enlisted Korn Ferry Intl. for an executive search firm.

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