06/26/2006 11:00PM

Confusion at guild

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Steve Rush
Guild chairman John Velazquez (left) listens to the Rev. Jesse Jackson during Monday's meeting.

The trials and tribulations of the Jockeys' Guild took a new turn on Tuesday when conflicting accounts emerged from its annual meeting about whether the guild had decided to hire a Los Angeles-based coin dealer and sports agent supported by the Rev. Jesse Jackson as its new national manager.

Officials for the guild said on Tuesday that no decision had been made, but the other candidate for the job, David Stevenson, a former jockey and owner of a simulcasting consultant business, said he was told "point-blank" by a guild lawyer on Monday night that the job would be awarded to the coin dealer, Dwight Manley. Manley brought Jackson to the guild meeting on Monday at the Galt House in Louisville, Ky.

The conflicting accounts add a new chapter to the guild's rough-and-tumble history over the past five years. In 2001, the guild pushed out its highly respected former national manager, John Giovanni, in favor of L. Wayne Gertmenian, a tenured professor of economics at Pepperdine University. Gertmenian was at the helm of the guild for four years until he was forced out in November of last year after criticism of his handling of the guild's management and finances and inaccuracies on his resume.

In 2002, Gertmenian also quietly failed to renew a catastrophic-insurance policy held by the guild that covered its members for up to $1 million in medical bills, a decision that led to harsh criticism from some guild members after jockey Gary Birzer was paralyzed from the waist down in 2004 in an accident at Mountaineer Park.

Angie Gimmel, a spokeswoman for the guild, said late Tuesday afternoon that the guild's board of directors was "taken by surprise" by Jackson's appearance on Monday at the organization's annual meeting. Gimmel said that Manley had informed the guild three days before the meeting that he wanted to bring an associate with him, but that guild officials were confused as to the associate's identity.

Gimmel said that Jackson and Manley - after giving a private presentation to the guild's board - began asking jockeys on Monday night whether they would support a "co-leadership" role for both men at the guild. She said that the role for both has not been discussed formally, and that the idea of having both Jackson and Manley at the helm was "an idea that got out of control" as riders discussed the possibility.

"No one has been hired," Gimmel said. "The board has not met about it. They were as surprised as anyone about the Rev. Jackson's proposal."

Gimmel said that the board of directors would likely poll the guild's members in informal conversations before making a decision on when to meet and select a candidate.

However, Stevenson said that a guild attorney, Tom Kennedy, who, like Jackson, is based in New York, told him on Monday night at 6:15 p.m. that the guild was going to hire Manley.

"I wouldn't tell you that if I thought I had a chance," Stevenson said, after being asked to repeat his account in a follow-up conversation. "They can spin it any way they want to. Tom Kennedy told me it point-blank."

Kennedy did not return a phone call late on Tuesday.

Manley, 40, describes himself as a self-made millionaire who trades in rare coins and gold. He has also represented professional basketball players Dennis Rodman and Karl Malone. Gimmel said that Manley was introduced to jockeys through California owners, and that Manley met with riders at Belmont Park on June 10 at the Belmont Stakes.

The guild is a trade association that claims to represent approximately 1,200 Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse riders in the United States. The organization, which has been in serious financial straits since Gertmenian was fired, collects dues from members in exchange for health benefits and representation in the industry on jockeys' issues.

Manley, who was said to be traveling on Tuesday, did not respond to requests for a telephone interview on Tuesday through guild representatives and his office in California.

Gimmel also said that Darrell Haire, the guild's interim national manager since Gertmenian was fired, has asked to be considered as a candidate and has received some support from industry officials. Haire was a guild regional manager under Giovanni and Gertmenian.

Stevenson, 69, said he had been working with guild officials for several months on his candidacy. In the text of the presentation that he gave to the guild's membership, he detailed a three-year "action plan" that called for the guild to become "an integral, important, and respected member of the racing industry."

"I was trying to help them," Stevenson said. "As a former rider, I felt an obligation to get them back on their feet and in a position where the guild could matter again."

According to multiple reports, Jackson, 64, answered questions from reporters after addressing the jockeys in a closed session and said that jockeys should not be considered independent contractors.

"It's a long word meaning semi-indentured servant," Jackson said. "Contractors have contracts with benefits."

Jackson's speech had echoes of the language used by Gertmenian, who once compared Churchill Downs to a "plantation." Gertmenian was widely disliked by racetrack officials who bristled at his confrontational style. Gertmenian also argued that jockeys should receive a larger and more direct cut of the industry's simulcasting revenues (jockeys already share in simulcasting revenues through purse earnings), a theme Jackson also addressed during his talk.

At the meeting on Monday, the guild elected a new nine-member board of directors to replace an interim board appointed last November. Elected were John Velazquez (chairman), G.R. Carter (vice chairman), Jon Court (secretary), Jeff Johnston (treasurer), Perry Compton, Mark Guidry, Jerry LaSala, Edgar Prado, and Alex Solis.