Hopefuls start spreadin' views

SAG candidates focus on N.Y.

Campaigning for SAG president has taken a turn toward the Big Apple, with recent candidate statements from incumbent Alan Rosenberg and chief rival Seymour Cassel finding them in a New Yawk state of mind.

More than 25,000 SAG actors live in the New York area, and Rosenberg e-mailed thousands of them Tuesday with a message of SAG unity.

"The best thing I have done (in two years as president) is to forge unity between New York, the regional branch division and Hollywood where none existed before," Rosenberg said. "We are talking to each other now, arriving at compromises and getting the work of the membership done."

He also included a subtle dig at Cassel.

"Like my opponent, I truly do consider myself a proud New York actor," Rosenberg said. "However, I am the only candidate whose actions have proven that I treat every member of this union, no matter where they may reside, as an equal partner."

In an interview Tuesday, Rosenberg made the point more sharply.

"Seymour consistently and regularly has derided actors who live anywhere but in L.A.," Rosenberg said. "So it was a little bit disingenuous of him to refer to himself as a New York actor."

Cassel recently sent postcard messages to New York membership under the heading, "Seymour Cassel, N.Y. Actor for S.A.G. President."

In a brief message, Cassel laid out his pitch to prospective New York voters.

"I'm not interested in playing politics," he said. "I've served on your board, and I'm running for president because I love actors — always have. I will be YOUR president: I grew up on 42nd Street between 10th and 11th, studied with Stella Adler and paid my dues in New York theaters. No one will be able to make a living in this business if we don't secure the future at the next negotiations. I will not fail you."

Both Rosenberg and Cassel have worked in film, TV and stage productions and boast substantial East Coast professional credits. Rosenberg is a native of Passaic, N.J., Cassel was born in Detroit and both live in Los Angeles.

On Tuesday, SAG's outgoing New York president Paul Christie, who also is national 2nd vp of the guild, said he has "never been a Seymour Cassel fan" and is endorsing Rosenberg's re-election.

"Having worked with (Rosenberg), we don't always agree, and we have sometimes disagreed strenuously, (but) I know how hard the guy has worked," Christie said. "I know there's more communication that has been opened up between New York board members and Hollywood board members than there has been in a long time. He's traveled the country and tried to heal some of the rifts that there have been. I don't know if that's possible, (but) it won't be for Alan's lack of trying."

Christie has endorsed SAG national board member Sam Freed for New York president, who's running against Erik-Anders Nilsson and James Vassanelli for the post.

"I'm just done," Christie said. "There's a burnout factor in doing this stuff. It's an unpaid position, and between work and family and everything else, there's a point (when) the tank is just empty."

In an interview Tuesday, Cassel said he supports a recent move by the SAG national board to institute bloc voting on negotiating issues in the next round of film and TV talks. Rosenberg also supports the concept, which is opposed by SAG's negotiating partner AFTRA as well as some New York-based SAG directors.

If employed during the 2008 negotiations, bloc voting would mean SAG members on the negotiating committee first voting among themselves and then registering unanimous votes in joint voting with AFTRA members of the committee. AFTRA claims the practice would run counter to a long-standing agreement between the parties and throw their negotiating relationship into jeopardy.

Meanwhile, Cassel, who also is running for re-election to the SAG national board, said he doesn't see the race for SAG president as a personal showdown between him and Rosenberg.

"I'm not really running against Alan, I'm running for myself," the well-known character actor said. "I've been on the board six years and have supported him (in the past). But I just thought things are changing and need to be. Once people know I'm running, they will be familiar with my work, and they know I don't take a lot of junk from people."

Barry Simmonds, a background actor who also is running for SAG president, recently circulated a candidate statement emphasizing issues important to film and TV extras.

"Everybody in Screen Actors Guild should be treated the same," Simmonds said. "Background actors should not be subjected to low wages (or have) their jobs taken by nonunion people (or have to use) segregated bathrooms and lunch counters, having to provide their own clothes to subsidize billion-dollar movies and TV (operations). Screen Actors Guild should stand by the background actor just like the Teamsters union stands by a driver."

Charley M. De La Pena, another candidate for guild president, could not be reached for a statement. But in the past, he has been identified with issues important to disabled actors.

Separately on Tuesday, Rosenberg said that his former Yale classmate Meryl Streep has endorsed his candidacy, representing the latest in a number of endorsements touted by the incumbent and Cassel.

Two years ago, Rosenberg defeated Robert Conrad and Morgan Fairchild to win his first term as president. He ran as part of a slate supported by SAG's activist MembershipFirst faction, which has endorsed Rosenberg's re-election as president and Cassel's retention to the national board.

Voting among SAG's 120,000 members for national officers and board seats will continue until Sept. 20, when ballots will be tabulated and a winner announced. Incumbent secretary-treasurer Connie Stevens, who has endorsed Rosenberg, is running for re-election unopposed.