Politicos elect to join the strike fray
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WASHINGTON -- Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards will address a rally of striking WGA writers Friday at NBC in Burbank.
It's the latest and most high-profile show of support to come from the front-runners in the Democratic derby. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton were quick to put out statements backing the scribes the day after the strike began.
The moves beg the question: Who's rallying for whom?
The support from the candidates has "much more to do with Iowa and New Hampshire than it does with Hollywood," said Raphael Sonenschein, a political science professor at Cal State Fullerton.
While appearances and support statements might generate headlines -- which have value for both the scribes and the politicos -- their impact seems largely symbolic. Most of the lawmakers who met with Hollywood labor leaders this week expressed concerns about the effects of the WGA strike, but they admitted that there is little that Congress can do about it.
In interviews Thursday, lawmakers or their aides said they were happy to meet with WGA West president Patric Verrone and SAG president Alan Rosenberg on Wednesday but that congressional action is unlikely.
"I'm concerned that the strike not drag on for a long time," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. "It has an effect not just on the people involved but on the economy as a whole."
When asked whether there is anything that lawmakers could do to help resolve the conflict, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said, "I doubt it."
Aides to other senior lawmakers that met with the labor leaders said their bosses' opinions tracked Waxman's.
Labor sources, however, said that Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., had expressed a desire to take some action; calls to her office went unreturned Thursday.
"It was more an informational meeting," one aide said. "They came. They told us what was going on, and they didn't ask for anything."
The meetings with lawmakers and the FCC came as the strike's effects ripple out from Los Angeles and New York, with several TV productions in Canada shutting down (HR 11/15).
Although lawmakers admit that their powers to bring an end to the conflict are limited, that doesn't mean they don't want to see bargaining restart.
"We ought to get all the parties to the table," Waxman said. "I'd encourage everyone to get back to negotiating."
Support of the writers could boomerang for the candidates.
Clinton and Obama are taking on some of the major moguls who support them. News Corp.'s Peter Chernin and Warner Bros.' Alan Horn are among Clinton's strongest champions; Sony's Michael Lynton, Universal's Ron Meyer and DreamWorks' Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen each co-hosted fundraising events for Obama.
The politician with the best chance of providing real momentum for a settlement is arguably California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has had conversations with both camps.
"With his ties to the film industry, Arnold would seem to have some unique clout," said Sonenschein, who suggested that the governor and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa -- who also has reached out to both sides -- could provide a one-two punch that might make a difference.
"Villaraigosa has strong backing from labor, and the studios would listen to the governor," Sonenschein said. "The two are friends, and maybe they could work together."
All these offers of help aren't necessarily welcome, however.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has offered to help broker negotiations in the stagehands strike against Broadway producers, but he was politely rebuffed by IATSE Local One president James Claffey Jr.
The New York mayor apparently played no role in the two sides returning to the table this weekend. "The mayor was part of the league's strategy all along, so the union isn't going to have him get involved," a Broadway source said.
Back Stage East news editor Andrew Salomon in New York and Carl DiOrio in Los Angeles contributed to this report.