WASHINGTON — Sonia Landau, chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, was reelected Thursday by a vote that publicly reflected a deep split on the organization's board of directors.
The board, convening here for its annual election of board officers, voted three times in a secret ballot. Each time the count was a 5-to-5 tie between Landau and her challenger, board member Harry O'Connor of Playa del Rey, Calif.
Under CPB's bylaws, a tie vote means that the chairman will retain her seat, but can be challenged at future meetings until there is a majority vote. The absence of one member at a future meeting could thus be critical.
O'Connor, a Republican appointed to the corporation's board by President Reagan in May, 1983, was nominated by Lillie Herndon, a Republican, who said she hoped that he might be able to "bring this board together much more than the board is together now."
O'Connor heads O'Connor Creative Services Inc., which produces and markets broadcast program services.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is the nonprofit agency set up by Congress to distribute federal appropriations to the nation's public radio and television stations.
Vice chairman Kenneth Towery, a Republican from Austin, Tex. who joined the board in November, 1981, also was reelected Thursday by a tie vote.
O'Connor was in contention for both offices because after losing the chairman's position, he was nominated by Sharon Rockefeller to be vice chairman. Again the board voted three times, with no members changing their minds in the 5-to-5 count.
The challenge to Landau was not unexpected. In recent months a sharp division in the board's makeup has become apparent.
At a May board meeting in San Francisco, CPB president Ed Pfister quit his job after the board voted 6 to 4 to withdraw its support for a delegation of public broadcasters planning a trip to the Soviet Union.
The board's vote followed a heated discussion in which some members accused the majority of making its decision on political grounds that were unrelated to public broadcasting.
In an interview after the board's election Thursday, O'Connor said he was not surprised at the outcome, but added that he is not abandoning his hope of becoming chairman.
"This is only the first round," he said. "I'm committed to winning the chairmanship."
O'Connor said that he is seeking a change in leadership because he believes the division among board members is damaging the public broadcasting industry.
"The board isn't functioning as it should," he said. "The President appointed one board at CPB, now we have two."
"We're literally at a standstill," he said.
Landau, in an interview, said, "I don't consider the tie vote to be an indication of my work."
Of the board members who first elected her chairman last year, the only one to drop his support for her Thursday was O'Connor.
"If the other people who had voted for me had changed their minds, that would bother me," she said.
Still, Landau agreed that the split on the board puts increasing pressure on members not to miss a meeting where a new vote could be taken.
"One only hopes that your supporters get there, and that they don't get hit by a car," she said.