Gilbert wins SAG rerun election for presidency

It's official. Melissa Gilbert has been elected the 23rd president of the Screen Actors Guild. That makes twice.

Gilbert garnered 21,351 votes (57%) in the national rerun election, again defeating runner-up Valerie Harper, who scored 12,613 votes (34%). In addition to capping off a pair of bitterly fought campaigns that reached fever pitches in recent weeks, the landslide victory for Gilbert should firmly solidify her mandate as SAG president.

The results of the presidential rerun mirrored those of the original, with Eugene Boggs placing third with 2,178 votes (6%) and AngelTompkins coming in fourth with 1,010 votes (3%).

Reached just after the results were announced, Gilbert said: "I feel very confident, very strong, and I am ready to keep going. I am just amazed at the way the members turned out. And I am sorry we had to do this, but if this election galvanized this union, then we have a future."

The results of the rerun were announced early Saturday morning after a marathon ballot-counting session that lasted nearly 16 hours.

A record 37,742 votes were tallied in the rerun, which represents a 41% turnout among the 91,000 eligible SAG voters. On average, 20%-26% of eligible voters turn out to vote in SAG elections. In the contested original election, 27,700 ballots were counted, with 28% voter participation. Gilbert defeated Harper by 1,588 votes in the original election.

In notching her victory, Gilbert carried every major SAG branch, including Los Angeles, New York, Florida and Chicago.

In the race for recording secretary, Elliott Gould once again handily defeated Kevin Kilner and Renee Aubry. Gould received 19,792 votes to Kilner's 12,953 votes. Aubry came in third with 3,728 votes.

As expected, the race for treasurer was the tightest among the three. Kent McCord retained his position as treasurer with 16,539 votes, defeating Amy Aquino, who drew 15,180 votes, while Kathleen Haigney once again came in third with 4,460 votes. In the original election, McCord squeaked out a 34-vote victory over Aquino.

"I am happy that this election turned out the way it did, and I am glad for the response from the membership this time around," McCord said. "We are going to have sit down and buckle down and do things necessary to move this union forward."

The decision by SAG members to elect Gilbert also is considered a victory of sorts for the new tentative franchise agreement hammered out between SAG and the Association of Talent Agents two weeks ago. The tentative agreement, which still requires approval from SAG's national board and then a vote from SAG's 98,000 members, liberalizes the rules governing agency investments in production companies, among other changes.

In recent weeks, Harper has made opposition to loosening the financial restrictions on agents her main battle cry. Gilbert, meanwhile, as a member of the ATA negotiating committee, voted in support of the pact, and the rerun was viewed as an early referendum on the tentative deal. SAG's board is scheduled to vote on the deal at a meeting today.

Harper issued the following statement Saturday morning: "I want to sincerely thank everyone who supported my candidacy. In this election, rerun in a fair and uniform manner, the real winner is the democratic process. I am grateful to everyone who participated in it. As a member of the board of directors, I look forward to immediately focusing on the crucial issues facing the membership of our guild."

McCord, who, like Harper, opposes the tentative deal, said, "There is going to be a debate, and then the members will ultimately make the decision whether this agreement is in their best interest."

Gilbert sidestepped any mention of the election results or the tentative ATA agreement in her 2 1/2-minute presidential speech at the SAG Awards on Sunday night.

Gilbert, who received an extended ovation from the crowd, made mention of the collaborative efforts of the filmmaking process. "This special evening also gives an opportunity to acknowledge the generous creative efforts of our offscreen collaborators: the writers, who give us the blueprint of the characters we play; the multitalented directors with whom we work so intimately to bring these characters to life; and the musicians, whose work is so often what pulls everything else together."

Backstage, Gilbert commented on the ATA agreement, saying the current agreement "had not been changed since 'The Wizard of Oz.' "

Of the fractious guild board, Gilbert said, "I have no intention of unifying this leadership -- that's impossible -- but I will embrace the various opinions and listen to the multitudinous voices in the boardroom." Gilbert also called on the board to tone down the public vitriol.

Gilbert and Harper also were opposed on how best to combat the problem of runaway production. Gilbert opposed the decision by SAG's board to support the Film & Television Action Committee's petition drive to get an investigation into the subsidies offered by the Canadian government to American film and television producers. FTAC has proposed implementing tariffs if the subsidies were found to be illegal. Harper supported FTAC and the investigation, while Gilbert remains opposed to the idea of tariffs.

In January, the original elections committee decided unanimously to rerun the voting for the three national officer positions, citing procedural foul-ups caused by SAG staffers and Sequoia Voting Systems, the firm hired by SAG to conduct the election.

"I think that the membership is sending the message loud and clear -- 'Don't tell us we voted wrong the first time,' " Aquino said, referring to nearly identical results in the second go-round. "I am thrilled for Melissa -- (now) no one can question her mandate."

Despite Friday's results, the final act in SAG's electoral saga might be still to come. A Department of Labor investigation into the election controversy that was initiated last month after five members petitioned the DOL will continue. As it moves forward with its investigation, the DOL has several possible actions at its disposal. The DOL could allow the results of the rerun to stand, or it could nullify the results. Or, in another possible but unlikely option, the DOL could step in and supervise a third election.