3 rivals for Rosenberg as SAG chief
EmptySAG president Alan Rosenberg has three challengers for re-election, including one from the same MembershipFirst faction that supported his inaugural campaign two years ago.
The MembershipFirst activist is Seymour Cassel, known for indie film roles and guest appearances on primetime dramas. Cassel, who also filed for re-election to SAG's national board, drew an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor for his role in John Cassavetes' 1968 film "Faces."
Also running for SAG president are the lesser-known Charley M. De La Pena and Barry Simmonds. All candidates, including those for various board seats, filed petitions with the SAG nominating committee by July 19.
SAG provided no biographical information in announcing the candidates. But De La Pena has been active on issues related to actors with disabilities and is expected to emphasize health-fund issues in his campaign.
It also was revealed that Paul Christie, New York division president and SAG national second vp, is not running for re-election. Candidates for New York president are Sam Freed, Erik-Anders Nilsson and James Vassanelli.
Rosenberg is completing his first two-year term as SAG president, one that has been marked by accomplishments and lingering challenges.
Among the former was the creation of a new-media department that will study and coordinate issues related to the Internet and other new entertainment distribution platforms. The latter include the question of how to get studios to agree to expand actors' compensation for new-media content.
New-media residuals are expected to figure throughout the next round of film and TV talks with studios. The WGA is pressing the issue in its ongoing negotiations, and SAG and the DGA will need to address the matter soon as their current studio pacts expire June 30.
Rosenberg also has touted his efforts to forge closer ties with the WGA, including the formation of an advisory committee to work with the guild during the writers' contract negotiations.
At the same time, SAG's chilly relations with AFTRA remain despite their regularly taking the same side of the bargaining table in contract talks. SAG officials also have been promising renewed efforts at implementing a broad new agency franchise agreement covering commission structures and other matters, but talks to date with the Association of Talent Agencies have been limited to a few informal discussions.
Various actors belonging to MembershipFirst, a group of SAG activists, have been regularly vocal on the issue of relations with AFTRA and ATA, with some viewing those groups as antagonistic to SAG interests.
Rosenberg, a well-known TV actor with occasional film credits, was elected president on a MembershipFirst slate. But there have been signs that the group has been less enthusiastic over his policy management and last year helped longtime activist Kent McCord defeat the Rosenberg-endorsed incumbent Anne-Marie Johnson for SAG national first vp.
"(Cassel's candidacy) is MembershipFirst sending Alan a signal," a veteran SAG-watcher said. "He might not be the strongest candidate, but the message is that they are watching."
However, sources said an initial MembershipFirst meeting on candidate endorsements included a vote to back Rosenberg for president and Cassel only for the SAG board. One well-placed source indicated that some disenchantment within the group over that vote and noted the endorsement has yet to be made public.
Rosenberg's re-election bid is bolstered by some extensive branch outreach he and other top officials at the guild have conducted during the past two years. The guild leadership has traveled to most of SAG's regional branches and renewed more harmonious Hollywood relations with the once-disgruntled guild leadership in New York.
"He's been the consummate politician," a Rosenberg admirer said. "But only a fool would dismiss the potential danger from Seymour because he is a very well-known actor, a working actor, and he has a populist message."
Rosenberg expressed a desire to complete work on issues he has tackled in his first term.
"Much of what I and the leadership have done points toward negotiations in 2008," he told a reporter. "To not run again would be leaving the job half done. I'm looking forward to sitting down next to (SAG national exec director) Doug Allen when negotiations begin."
As for his re-election rivals and the prospect of MembershipFirst's backing, the SAG incumbent added, " I think MembershipFirst supports me and everything I'm doing."
Cassel said he is running because the upcoming studio negotiations will require strong leadership.
"I think I can be a better president," Cassel said. "I'm not afraid to bargain with my employers — I never have. I've been at the negotiating table for basic cable and theatrical, and you have to be strong with these people. My life has been acting. I've been an actor for over 40 years, and I love it."
Arlin Miller, who maintains the well-read blog SAGwatchdog.com, said he isn't endorsing anyone just yet.
"I'm waiting to hear what the presidential candidates have to say, and I will listen to them all with an open mind," Miller said.
Elsewhere on the ballot, well-known film and TV actress Connie Stevens, an incumbent, is running unopposed for SAG secretary-treasurer.
The Hollywood division will elect 11 national board members and 22 alternates, each seat representing a three-year term and alternates serving one year. The New York division will elect five national directors and alternates, and eight other national board seats will be elected from SAG branches outside Hollywood and New York, with an announcement of regional candidates pending.
Ballots will be mailed to SAG members Aug. 21 and must be returned by Sept. 20, when results will be tabulated and announced.