UPDATED with details and reactions: As expected, Ken Howard has been re-elected President of SAG-AFTRA, defeating challenger Patricia Richardson. But in a big surprise, his Unite for Strength running mate Jenny O’Hara was beaten in the race for Secretary-Treasurer by Richardson’s Membership First running mate Jane Austin.
Howard received 16,233 votes – 163 fewer than two years ago, when he beat Esai Morales – to Richardson’s 13,976, or 53.7%-46.3%. Austin beat O’Hara by 15,722 to 14,143 (52.7%-47.3%). Only 21.7% of the union’s 139,313 eligible members cast ballots, though the 30,263 cast this year was 1,508 more than two years ago, when only 20.5% of the members voted.
“I am very proud and excited that the members responded to our message of an open, responsive and democratic union,” Austin, a well-known stuntwoman, told Deadline. “My pledge is to make sure that every dollar spent by the union is spent in the most efficient way and with transparency.”
Austin — whose stuntwork credits include Justified, True Blood, Law & Order: SVU, Wayne’s World 2 and two Naked Gun films — has served 12 years on SAG-AFTRA’s board and the boards of its predecessor unions. She has also chaired the Stunt Committee and served on the National Executive, Communications and Disciplinary Review committees.
In her formal statement, Austin said: “The union’s financial well-being is key to its success, and I want to thank the members for entrusting me with this tremendous responsibility. Working with President Howard and the national board, I am confident we can ensure a strong and secure future for members.”
David White, the union’s National Executive Director, extended his congratulations to the elected officers. “I am especially pleased to welcome President Howard and newly elected Secretary-Treasurer Jane Austin,” he said in a statement. “The staff and I are eager to partner with them, and elected leaders from across the country, on the many challenges and opportunities ahead.”
Howard ran on his record of accomplishment over the past six years, citing the merger of SAG and AFTRA and more than $800 million in contract gains without a strike as two of the main reasons to return him to office. He also cited “significant progress” toward merging the SAG and AFTRA health plans, faster processing of residuals checks, a budget surplus this year of $9.1 million and “California’s $330 million film and television tax credit program,” which the union endorsed but really had very little to do with its passage. He also accused Richardson and her Membership First slate of making “empty promises squarely at odds with the divisive positions they have taken for years. Worse, they want you to believe their hollow rhetoric is the same as actual results.”
On his re-election, Howard said: “Serving the members of Screen Actors Guild and now SAG-AFTRA has been one of the greatest privileges of my life as an actor. I am honored and grateful to the members for their confidence in our team. From merger to contract gains and beyond, we have together built a strong union that is focused on economic security and opportunity for members. But the fight to protect performers is never over and I am eager to continue it. I thank the members for their support, and I’m excited to get back to work.”
An Emmy and Tony Award winner, Howard has appeared in such films as The Judge, Michael Clayton, Clear And Present Danger and 1776 but is best known for his many TV appearances. He helped create and starred as an inner-city high school basketball coach The White Shadow from (1978-82) and has had recurring roles on Curb Your Enthusiasm, 30 Rock, Crossing Jordan, Dynasty and Melrose Place.Howard first was elected president of SAG in 2009 and was re-elected in 2011. He served as Co-President after the 2012 merger with AFTRA and was elected to a third term in 2013. He currently is tied with Charlton Heston as the third-longest-serving President of SAG (six years), and at the end of this two-year term, he’ll be the longest-serving president in the history of SAG and SAG-AFTRA — topping Barry Gordon, who served seven years and one month, and Ronald Reagan, who served 6½ years. But Howard would need to win twice more to tie Reagan for the most election wins because Reagan (pictured at right as SAG President in 1949) was elected to six one-year terms, a record that probably won’t be broken. Walter Pidgeon and Robert Montgomery each served five years.