SAG-AFTRA Co-President Ken Howard to Run Separately From Slate (Exclusive)

SAG-AFTRA co-president Ken Howard
SAG-AFTRA co-president Ken Howard
 Getty Images

In an unusual turn of events, SAG-AFTRA co-president Ken Howard’s campaign for a third term – this time as sole president, not co-president – will see him running without a slate, The Hollywood Reporter has learned. He’ll endorse and be endorsed by the Unite for Strength slate, which he has co-led for the last four years, but he won’t actually be part of it.

The same is true of current co-secretary-treasurer Amy Aquino. She’s running for the sole secretary-treasurer slot and remains a key leader of UFS, yet will not be part of the organization’s slate. It remains to be seen how this slate detachment will affect the election results, if at all.

The confusing situation results from disagreement regarding the third key SAG-AFTRA office, executive vice president, a position that is elected at the union’s convention in late September, rather than on the direct ballot, which is how the president, secretary-treasurer, board members and convention delegates are elected. (Candidate petitions for the direct ballot positions were due Friday, with petitions expected to be certified and candidate names released later this week.)

The exec vp shuffle apparently began with a decision by current executive vice president Ned Vaughn – the third member of the triumvirate that has led the union’s boardroom since 2009 –  not to run for re-election. Aquino and Vaughn founded the slate in 2008 on a pro-merger platform. Vaughn, who has five children, told THR that “in light of the success [of the effort to merge SAG and AFTRA], I felt it was time for me to move on to other pursuits.”

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Meanwhile, multiple sources have confirmed that SAG-AFTRA co-president and former AFTRA president Roberta Reardon has said she intends to run for exec vp, marking a step down from a co-president role.

Aquino at some point insisted that Howard agree to endorse Reardon at the convention or, at least, agree not to favor any other exec vp candidate. Howard refused both demands, setting the stage for an awkward compromise proposed by Vaughn: The two national officer candidates, Howard and Aquino, would run slate-less, while UFS would run as a slate of Los Angeles board and delegate candidates. A source tells THR that UFS will not be endorsing Reardon.

Also likely to endorse and be endorsed by Howard and Aquino is the New York-based United Screen Actors Nationwide. That group, which is actually not nationwide, has been allied with UFS. A source told THR that Reardon, a New Yorker, has support from at least one key USAN member, former SAG president Richard Masur.

On the other side of the aisle, Esai Morales and Jane Austin, former members of the SAG anti-merger slate MembershipFirst, are reportedly running for president and secretary-treasurer. It’s not known what moniker their slate will adopt, nor who will run for EVP on their ticket at the convention.

In any case, if Reardon runs but Howard endorses another candidate, it’s possible that a split convention could hand the exec vp seat to a MembershipFirst candidate. That depends, of course, on whether the MembershipFirst slate wins enough delegate positions to take advantage of any dissension among Howard, Aquino, UFS, USAN and their allies in the locals outside of L.A. and New York.

Indeed, support outside L.A. and New York may not be so automatic. The union’s April decision to shutter 10 of the union’s 25 offices in a budget and “restructuring” move that angered board members in the affected regions (with even stalwart merger supporter Mary McDonald-Lewis charging in its wake that the “merger was sold on a false promise”) may give MembershipFirst some unexpected traction in the regions outside of L.A. and New York.

Another piece of the puzzle: the union’s other current co-secretary-treasurer, Matt Kimbrough who was also the former AFTRA secretary-treasurer, told THR that he is not running for re-election, saying that it was time for a renewed focus on his acting career. He’s continuing on as an AFTRA Health & Retirement Trustee, however, and will also run as a convention delegate.

With Reardon struggling to find a place and Kimbrough out of the boardroom, two and perhaps all three key national officer positions will likely be held by former SAG activists by the time the election cycle ends in late September.

That dominance by legacy SAG is mirrored on the union’s paid staff: national executive director (NED) David White, chief administrative officer and general counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, assistant NED for communications Pam Greenwalt, senior adviser John McGuire, chief financial officer Arianna Ozzanto, assistant NED for locals Linda Dowell and assistant NED for awards Kathy Connell are all former SAG executives.

In contrast, the only former AFTRA executives at the top without a parallel SAG appointment are associate NED Mathis Dunn, and two assistant NEDs for areas where AFTRA had sole jurisdiction: Mary Cavallaro (news & broadcast) and Randall Himes (sound recordings).

Other top staff are the assistant NEDs of contracts, Ray Rodriguez (formerly SAG) and Joan Halpern Weise (AFTRA); and the assistant NEDs for organizing (Philip Denniston, AFTRA) and for industry relations (Deborah Skelly, SAG).

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E-mail: jhandel99 at gmail dot com
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