Writers roll up sleeves as voting nears

Fall elections for WGA West begin in two weeks

What do they think this is, a health-care town-hall meeting?

Two weeks before ballots go out to members, the WGA West fall election battle had a major flare-up Thursday. A letter from longtime WGAW member Larry Gelbart endorsing presidential candidate Elias Davis and criticizing Davis' opponent, John Wells, made its way to the Internet.

In the open letter, Gelbart champions Davis as a new standard-bearer for the Writers United party, led by outgoing president Patric Verrone, which, as he sees it, fought hard for worthy gains in the WGA contract. By contrast, Gelbart described Wells' previous presidential term from 1999-2001 as leading to the WGA becoming a "timid and obsequious" organization.

Additionally, Gelbart leveled other charges against Wells, calling him a duplicitous showrunner on "The West Wing," a weak negotiating committee member in previous bargaining cycles and an interloper during the strike in 2008.

"I really think it's sad if we're going to end up in a process in Writers Guild electoral politics that mirrors what's happened in other unions over the last four or five years," Wells said. "I don't think that's in anybody's best interests."

Gelbart's letter was designed to be included in the election materials being collected by the guild for inclusion with the ballots that go out to members Aug. 26. Even noncandidates like Gelbart can include statements in the election packet.

Wells had written a rebuttal to Gelbart's noncandidate statement, which he then made public once Gelbart's appeared online. The deadline for official statements was noon Thursday.

In his statement, Wells takes on Gelbart's accusations one by one, acknowledges that they have a history of guild conflict and states, "Larry's statement deeply saddens me. He is one of my writing idols ... the tone, innuendo, half-truths and outright falsehoods that riddle his remarks epitomize what I feel has gone terribly wrong with the level of debate in the guild since Writers United took control."

The campaign tussle comes after a protracted and ugly contract impasse at SAG finally was resolved. That union has its own election campaign beginning, with similarly polarized factions each making its case for who best can achieve its aims in the next crucial negotiating cycle starting at the end of next year.

WGAW voting results will be delivered Sept. 18. SAG's results are due six days later.