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Writers Elect Petrie President in Landslide

September 22, 2004|Lorenza Munoz | Times Staff Writer

Hollywood TV and film writers overwhelmingly elected Daniel Petrie Jr. president of their union Tuesday, a mandate he hopes marks an end to one of the group's most tumultuous years.

Petrie received 71% of the 2,111 votes cast by members of the Writers Guild of America, West, at which he currently is interim president. That compared with 26% for challenger Eric Hughes. The remaining 3% listed write-in candidates or were left blank.

Petrie said he hoped the decisive win would allow him and the guild's managers to fully tackle some of the guild's pressing issues, most notably its stalled contract negotiations with studios and networks. The newly elected president called the election results "a real vote of confidence in the guild."

One of the most contentious issues between writers and studios is how to divvy up the money generated from booming DVD sales and from the fledgling video-on-demand business. Another hot button: defining the guild's role in representing writers working on so-called reality TV shows.

Petrie added that improving healthcare benefits has emerged as a key issue. "It is time for management to step up and take up their half of the burden in their part of the national healthcare crisis," he said.

Writers have been working without a contract since May 2, as talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers floundered.

Tuesday's vote was supervised by the Labor Department under an agreement reached with the guild after an internal investigation found that last year's winner, Victoria Riskin, should have been declared ineligible to run because she lacked enough paid writing credits.

Riskin was succeeded by Charles Holland, who resigned after a Los Angeles Times story found no basis for claims he made about his military and college athletic achievements. A former guild president, Petrie was named as his successor.

Hughes, defeated by Riskin last year, maintained during the campaign that the guild was overly secretive in its finances, its negotiations and in such areas as its arbitration of writer credits. He also contended that the guild's staff was too powerful and needed a shakeup.

"I'm going to continue to fight for a more honest union," Hughes said after Tuesday's defeat. "I'm not going away.... I do feel that I have won in that this gave me an opportunity to put some important questions out there."

In his campaign, Petrie struck a more moderate tone, defending the guild and its management. He said he hoped the union could now move forward.

"I certainly tried to conduct my campaign in a way that would not leave any hurt feelings," he said. "I will certainly reach out" to the opposition.

Petrie, 52, has such credits as "Beverly Hills Cop" and "The Big Easy." He is the son of the late writer and director Daniel Petrie Sr., who died last month.

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