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Ken Howard, a moderate, elected Screen Actors President

September 24, 2009 |  6:27 pm

That's the second big win for Ken Howard this week.

Members of the Screen Actors Guild have elected the veteran character actor, who just won won an Emmy on Sunday for his role in HBO's "Grey Gardens," as the union's new president, capping a bitter election campaign that sharply divided Hollywood's largest and most fractious union.


Howard defeated actress Anne-Marie Johnson, SAG's first vice president who was his leading challenger and backed by the faction that swept outgoing president Alan Rosenberg into office four years ago. Supporters of Howard further consolidated power by winning a majority of the 22 seats on the 69-member national board that were up for grabs.

The result further tilts the balance of power inside the actors union toward a group of moderates endorsed by Tom Hanks and George Clooney, who led a revolt against the union's leadership, forcing the ouster earlier this year of its executive director.

The group installed a new negotiating team and appointed former general counsel David White as the union's interim executive director, but the actions sparked a lawsuit by Johnson and Rosenberg.

Howard, whose credits include the TV series "Crossing Jordan," campaigned on a platform that included merging with the smaller actors union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

AFTRA suspended its longtime bargaining partnership with SAG last year after a dispute over turf, freeing the union to negotiate directly with the studios for the main prime-time TV contract. The smaller actors union, which has long played second fiddle to SAG, has suddenly emerged as the go-to union for new prime-time TV shows, weakening SAG's grip in area it has traditionally dominated.

Howard argued that having two actors' unions allows studios to pit one against the other, severely undercutting SAG's leverage at the bargaining table.


Johnson, star of  the TV series "In the Heat of the Night" and "That's So Raven," countered that merging the two unions was a bad idea because their memberships are too dissimilar. Although both unions represent actors and share about  44,000 members in common,  AFTRA's members also include broadcast announcers, recording artists and radio show hosts. 

Johnson's close association with Rosenberg, however, may have hurt her campaign. Rosenberg waged an unsuccessful campaign to defeat a contract negotiated by AFTRA, fiercely opposed a SAG contract that was approved overwhelmingly by members, and lost a battle to keep Allen in his job.

The result follows a similar outcome in a closely contest election at the Writers Guild of America, West, where members also tapped "Southland" executive producer John Wells, a moderate, over "MASH" writer Elias Davis, who had been strongly supported by the former president Patric M. Verrone, who led the union during a 100-day strike.

-- Richard Verrier

Photo: Ken Howard (courtesy of Howard); Johnson (AP/Reed Saxon)