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It could be a lost episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show -- Rhoda runs for office, loses to a dimple-cheeked comer, and then challenges the results with the help of her friends. But Valerie Harper isn't laughing. In the recent Screen Actors Guild election, she lost her bid for the presidency to Melissa "Laura Ingalls" Gilbert by 1,588 votes out of 27,730 cast. Harper is now claiming that in New York (Gilbert's power base), members were given an additional two days to vote and the ballots violated union procedures because a signature line was missing.

"Look what happened in Florida!" shouts Harper at a benefit for Senior Pride Network, a gay-senior-citizens group, at Chelsea's G bar, where she is autographing scarves. "At first, I let it go because I felt like I'd be a sore loser. But then I realized that this could easily happen in future elections."

In Harper's corner are fellow SAG celebs like Elliott Gould, who easily won his post as secretary, and Adam-12 hunk Kent McCord, who narrowly beat Amy Aquino (a regular on Felicity and ER) for treasurer. Together they prompted an investigation by the union's election committee, and McCord has contacted the U.S. Department of Labor. Although McCord is demanding a revote, Harper insists she's only interested in fixing the system. "I want to make sure that we obey our own rules. It is time for me to take a stand."

Gilbert won't comment until after the election committee rules on the challenges in late December. But for now, the bitterly contested race has deepened an already San Andreas?sized rift between the union's two main constituencies. "There's a great deal of mistrust between New York and L.A.," says Gould. "Maybe it's the time difference or the lack of communication, but it's become very political." Gould was disappointed by Harper's loss, as a friend, but he also believes that she is better suited to tackle tough issues like bringing movie and commercial production back to the United States. "I don't look at Melissa as any less of a human being," says Gould. "But she had time to campaign her ass off while Valerie was busy doing a play."


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