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GILBERT, MCCORD FACE OFF CROMWELL, MORALES VIE FOR SAG TREASURER.

Byline: Greg Hernandez Staff Writer

Melissa Gilbert will face a familiar foe in her bid for a second term as president of the Screen Actors Guild: veteran actor Kent McCord, a driving force behind the defeat of two of Gilbert's major initiatives in the past year.

McCord, 60, is scheduled to formally announce his candidacy for the SAG presidency today. He is best known for his starring role on the long-running 1970s police drama ``Adam 12.''

``I am pro-union to the core,'' McCord said Tuesday. ``I believe I bring a different perspective, focus and background to the position.''

Judging from the explosive tone of the most recent election and two membership referendum votes in which Gilbert and McCord were on opposing sides, the battle for SAG's leadership is expected to be quite a tussle.

``I am ready to respond to whatever comes,'' McCord said. ``I believe we have differences of opinion; that's no surprise to anyone.''

McCord said he will team with Esai Morales, one of the stars of ``NYPD Blue,'' who will run for the newly merged position of secretary-treasurer. Morales' main competition will be James Cromwell (``Babe''), who is firmly aligned with Gilbert.

``I think Melissa is doing an extraordinary job,'' said Cromwell, 63. ``I think there isn't anything we can't accomplish if we have a certain amount of civility and a certain amount of being in touch with the realities of this business, which are changing rapidly.''

Morales could not be reached for comment.

The positions of treasurer and secretary had previously been separate offices and are currently held by McCord and Elliott Gould, respectively.

Gilbert said Tuesday that running for a second term was an easy decision. She said her work is not yet finished and that she has tremendous loyalty to her allies on SAG's board of directors.

``I'm never one to step away or turn my back from a challenge,'' she said. ``I've always believed I'm in the right place at the right time doing the right thing, so I can handle whatever comes my way.''

For his part, Cromwell said he is ready for what could be a raucous campaign.

``I came up in radical politics in the '60s, so that's fine with me,'' he said. ``I believe the opposition doesn't have the program to address the issues that are in front of us, and they rely on sort of a climate of fear and intimidation that I think is purely for political reasons.''

Some questioned whether Gilbert would run again after last week's narrow defeat of a proposed merger of SAG and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the nation's two biggest actors unions.

Gilbert, 39, had championed the merger, while McCord was a leader in the effort to defeat a referendum that failed to get the required 60 percent approval required. It fell just short with a 57.7 percent vote in favor of the merger.

``It would be really wimpy of me to turn tail and run away now,'' Gilbert said. ``If only 30 (percent), 40 percent of the members had voted yes, it would be a whole different story and we would know that we are headed in the wrong direction and not the leaders the voters want. But a 58 percent majority says something, and I'm not going to walk away and ignore that. If we ignore it, we are not only fools, we are cowards.''

Gilbert, best known for her role on ``Little House on the Prairie,'' said the most recent referendum resulted in the highest voting returns in SAG history and she remains committed to a SAG-AFTRA merger of some kind.

``I don't think that's over yet,'' Gilbert said. ``Not by a long shot. We are committed to finding a way to uphold what the voters want.''

Gilbert had also backed a proposed franchise agreement between SAG and the Association of Talent Agents voted down by members in April 2002. McCord was vehemently opposed to the proposal.

It was also McCord who, despite being one of the winners, successfully led an effort to have the results of the fall 2000 election of SAG's three national officers overturned due to errors made by the company hired to run the election. Gilbert beat Valerie Harper in the original election and in the repeat. McCord and Gould were also victorious both times.

McCord has been involved in SAG politics over several long stretches during the past three decades and served as first vice president behind former SAG presidents William Schallert and Edward Asner in addition to a host of work on various SAG committees. In 1999, he received the Ralph Morgan Award, which is given for service to the guild.

``This is something I've been asked to do for over 30 years, to run for president,'' McCord said. ``Early on, I thought I was too young. But I have the experience and respect for our union, the greatest actors union in the world. I want to bring the focus back to what the union is and stop trying to create something that it is not.''

The deadline for submitting petitions for SAG president, secretary- treasurer or for a seat on the board of directors is July 24. Ballots will go out Aug. 26, with the results announced in September.

Greg Hernandez, (818) 713-3758

greg.hernandez(at)dailynews.com

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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 9, 2003
Words:902
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