Connolly leaves AFTRA to lead Equity

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John Connolly, the top elected and quite visible leader of AFTRA for the past six years, will move to Actors' Equity, assuming its top staff post as national executive director, effective March 19.

Connolly will be replaced as AFTRA president by radio personality Bob Edwards, previously first national vp at the 70,000-member union.

At Equity, Connolly replaces the long-serving Alan Eisenberg at the organization, which represents about 45,000 stage actors and stage managers. Eisenberg announced he would leave in August after 25 years and was to be replaced by Equity president Patrick Quinn, who died from a massive coronary in September before he could take over as exec director.

"(Connolly) is highly respected in the acting community and is a strong trade unionist," Equity president Mark Zimmerman said. "John has extensive experience as a consensus builder and policy leader in the entertainment business, making him uniquely qualified."

Connolly, first elected as national president of AFTRA in 2001, said he was "humbled by the confidence and responsibility bestowed upon me" by Equity's national council. He will be based in New York and plans to look for a Manhattan residence soon, while also maintaining a house in Los Angeles.

"The energy and passion John demonstrated as AFTRA national president on behalf of actors, recording artists, journalists and broadcasters (and) his commitment to the principles of organized labor will serve him well in his new role," AFTRA national exec director Kim Roberts Hegpeth said.

An Equity member since 1973, Connolly has stage, film and TV credits. His 200 stage credits include the Broadway production of "Big River," he has guest-starred in the TV series "The West Wing" and "Crossing Jordan," and his feature work has included leading roles in "When the Bough Breaks" and other films.

Edwards, the longtime host of National Public Radio's "Morning Edition," hosts "The Bob Edwards Show" on XM Satellite Radio. He has received an AFTRA media and entertainment excellence award.

"John and I are probably opposites," Edwards said. "I'm very calm and laid back, and John gets very passionate sometimes.

"But that's just our personality styles, and both of us aim for consensus and want to do what's best for the membership," he added. "I came in the same day he did (in 2001), and our leadership is very united. I'm not saying we think with one mind, but we are interesting in speaking together and acting together."

Media consolidation and runaway production are just two of the challenges that face AFTRA membership and its leaders.

AFTRA's national board will meet in April to vote on Edwards confirmation to fill Connolly's unexpired term as president, which runs through July, when a president for the next two years will be elected at the organization's annual convention in Philadelphia.

The turnover at the top of the organization comes as AFTRA leadership prepares for talks for a new network code, the collective bargaining agreement for all television work except primetime. That expires Nov. 15, but talks are expected to commence long before then.

In 2008, representatives of SAG and AFTRA will engage with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers in negotiations for a new film and TV contract covering movie and primetime actors.

Connolly said he is confident Edwards and AFTRA will navigate the busy period successfully.

"Both the elected leadership and the extraordinary staff of AFTRA has a capacity (that) goes way beyond anything that I provide," he said. "I am not indispensable."
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