Published: February 21, 2001
By Roger Armbrust
The Screen Actors Guild/New York has set the runoff election to break a tie between national board-of-directors candidates Kelly Craig and Jordan Derwin. Ballots will be mailed to all eligible SAG/NY members on Feb. 10, with a return deadline of March 4.
The guild set the specific dates following a threat by Craig to seek legal action after John Sucke, SAG/NY’s executive director, informed her he would not consider a runoff schedule until after Jan. 25. That is the deadline date for return of ballots on SAG’s proposed merger with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA).
The tie between Craig and Derwin resulted after three ballot counts by Honest Ballot Association (HBA), the official tabulator hired by SAG/NY. Craig, along with other independent candidates, formally protested HBA’s tabulation methods, but the SAG/NY election committee upheld the election on Dec. 16.
Craig and five other independent candidates then carried their complaint in a Jan. 4 letter to the national guild. But, this week, they received a Jan. 8 letter from Ken Orsatti‹SAG’s national executive director‹who said that the guild’s rules of procedures hold that the SAG/NY election committee’s decision “shall be conclusive and binding.” Orsatti told the complainants they could take their case to the federal Office of Labor-Management Standards, but it wasn’t known at press time if they intended to follow that course.
Craig has retained an attorney, Arthur Z. Schwartz, who told Back Stage he was scheduled to meet with HBA officials on Thursday to discuss runoff election procedures.
Arthur Schwartz had complained in a Jan. 7 letter to HBA’s Murray Schwartz‹no relation to the attorney‹that HBA’s three ballot counts involved “sloppy work,” including “questionable rulings by Marilyn Falik [the tabulation supervisor] which favored Ms. Craig’s opponent.”
During his interview, Arthur Schwartz told Back Stage that one such ruling involved “one ballot where the voter crossed out Derwin’s name, and she counted that as a vote for Derwin. She said it was her rule that any mark of any sort near a candidate’s name counts as a vote for that candidate. That one vote made a difference in the tie.”
In his letter, Arthur Schwartz listed four “immediate” concerns:
1. In the original election, HBA “did not follow” the guild’s rules of procedures requirement that ballots be sent to a post office box and remain there until the day of the vote count. “You did not follow this practice in the original election,” the letter stated. “It the rules are not followed this time, we will take HBA and SAG to court.”
2. The attorney also threatened court action if HBA continued “to require candidates to do their campaign mailings through HBA’s printer/mailer.” He said he felt he could “get Ms. Craig a far better rate” through another mailing house that specializes in political campaign mailings. Arthur Schwartz told Back Stage that HBA had since agreed to let Craig use another mailing service.
3. Craig’s attorney is demanding that “printing of extra ballots be kept to a minimum and that every printed ballot be accounted for on the day of the count.”
4. He also is calling for HBA to “allow Ms. Craig sufficient observers on the day of the count to maintain a semblance of oversight…”
In an interview at press time, Murray Schwartz, a retired state senator and HBA’s chairman of the board, said he had just returned from Florida and hadn’t seen Arthur Schwartz’s letter. However, he pointed out that he hoped to work out any problems at the Thursday meeting.
Schwartz said his firm has conducted both Equity and SAG elections “for many years.” He said HBA wouldn’t stop the recent SAG vote count in spite of “all the harassment going on. I wasn’t there, or I wouldn’t have allowed it to happen.”
Asked what he meant by “harassment,” he responded, “We do our tally in the room of the Screen Actors Guild. If people start coming around while we’re doing the counting, it’s disturbing. We have two options, either try to continue, or tell them, “If you’re not quiet, we’re going to ask you to leave.”
He didn’t mention who specifically might have been involved in “harassment,” or if anyone had actually been asked to leave.
He also noted that defeated candidates “have always gone to the Labor Department or the courts,” but that HBA has “never been reversed on elections we’ve finalized and given certification to.”
Letters of Position
Correspondence among Craig, her attorney, and SAG’s Sucke reveals the joust for either scheduling or delaying the runoff, and possible legal action Craig might take.
In a Dec. 24 letter to Sucke, Craig said, “I hate to deliver legal ultimatums on Christmas Eve, but it has been over one month since the election for the New York National Board seat I ran for was declared a tie, and I get no sense that any steps have been undertaken to arrange a runoff.” She added that she considered the delay unreasonable, and, if “substantive steps towards that runoff (such as a mailing of an announcement to the membership) do not take place by Dec. 31…I will begin the New Year with a lawsuit to compel such an election.”
She also suggested that the American Arbitration Association (AAA) rather than HBA conduct the runoff.
Sucke responded in a Dec. 30 letter that the election results were actually finalized on Dec. 18, following the election committee’s review of complaints on Dec. 16.
He also said, “After careful consideration of the schedule of activities in which the union is engaged and to which it is irrevocably committed, I have concluded that it is not practicable to schedule a run-off election before January 25. Moreover, an earlier election may cause confusion with the merger referendum vote which is due January 25.”
Sucke also refused Craig’s suggestion of using AAA, saying basically that the election committee found HBA fit to conduct the runoff.
Craig responded in a Jan. 5 letter than she found Sucke’s response “totally disingenuous,” adding, “I consider your inability to even consider the dates for a runoff until January 26…to be insulting to me and to the membership.” She closed by saying, “I plan to file suit to compel an immediate election, with balloting concluded and counted no later than February 15…” She threatened to file her suit by Jan. 11.
On Jan. 6, SAG/NY’s communications office issued a press release stating that the runoff would be held.
Following the December vote counts, SAG/NY’s attorney decided that Derwin‹who had already been serving on the board and was a selection of the SAG nominating committee‹should fill the undecided board seat until the runoff election. Craig has complained about SAG’s action.
On Jan. 7, Craig’s attorney, in a letter to Sucke, said, “We are concerned that the leadership of the Screen Actors Guild in New York City will undertake efforts, over the next month, to use union resources to promote the candidacy of Jordan Derwin. Those efforts could include reports about Mr. Derwin in the New York Actor or in other official publications.
“Should such an improper use of union resources take place, we shall seek immediate judicial relief…” Schwartz also asked Sucke for a meeting of the election committee to discuss the runoff rules. He added, “Nothing in your Rules of Procedure allows the committee to cede authority to the Honest Ballot Association,” as Sucke had suggested in his letter to Craig.
Sucke’s office said he was in Los Angeles for the SAG national committees’ and membership meetings and not available, at press time, for comment. A spokesperson for SAG/NY’s communications office confirmed that an issue of New York Actor would be out in early February, but its contents weren’t immediately known.
Jayne Wallace, SAG/NY’s communications director, later called to say, “We do have a policy that, during elections, we’re very cautious to not give any candidates an advantage over another.”
As an example, she pointed out that, in the October issue of the newsletter, “a photo was taken at a parade which had candidates in it. We determined not to use the photo. We’re cautious of that all the time; it’s a normal, ongoing policy.”