Art McMaster, president and CEO of the Miss America Organization, speaks during a press conference at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City upon the return of the pageant. Now, McMaster is stepping down.

Vernon Ogrodnek

Art McMaster was at the helm of the Miss America Organization when the pageant left Atlantic City in 2005, and he was still there earlier this year as the organization negotiated a way to bring the competition back to its birthplace.

If McMaster sees this September’s competition, however, it will be from the sidelines. The New Jersey resident and 14-year veteran of the organization has stepped down as CEO and president five months before the pageant’s highly anticipated return to its former stage at Boardwalk Hall.

“After successfully bringing this thing back to Atlantic City, I needed to take a break from the action. It’s become such a 24/7 type of job,” said McMaster, 59. “Fourteen years of your life is an important part. I’ve loved every minute of it.”

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In McMaster’s place will be two pageant veterans who will split the Sewell, Gloucester County, resident’s responsibilities. Sharon Pearce, the organization’s vice president, will serve as interim president. Sam Haskell, the chairman of the board, will take over as CEO.

“There really won’t be a blip in our day,” Haskell said, noting the transition will be easy as the three have worked closely for years. “The change is not the issue. The fact that we’re doing two Miss America pageants in nine months, now that’s an issue.”

Miss America 2014 will be crowned in Atlantic City on Sept. 15. Reigning Miss America Mallory Hagan was just crowned in January.

The Press of Atlantic City columnist Pinky Kravitz broke the news of the organization’s changes Wednesday.

McMaster started with the organization in 2000 and took over as its head in 2004 during a somewhat tumultuous period for the pageant’s leadership. At the time, McMaster was the fifth leader named in a little more than five years. In the end, the former pageant comptroller provided the most stability in leadership seen since the 11-year-run of Leonard Horn. Horn was credited with developing a more modern pageant, in which the contestants had platform causes.

During McMaster’s run, the Miss America Outstanding Teen contest was added, and the organization found a national platform in the Children’s Miracle Network, for which Miss America serves as a goodwill ambassador.

Though the president and CEO duties have been combined for years, Haskell said a decision to split the work would be most efficient and play to existing strengths. Pearce, of Ventnor, has been with the Linwood-based organization since 2006. Prior to that, she was based in Atlantic City as a regional vice president of advertising and public relations for Caesars Entertainment.

“She knows all the players in town. She knows how things work in Atlantic City,” McMaster said.

Haskell, meanwhile, has a background that’s taken him across the country. He’s the former worldwide head of television for the William Morris Agency, where he packaged shows including “Mad About You,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “The Cosby Show” and “Murphy Brown.” His client list has included Bill Cosby, Whoopi Goldberg, Dolly Parton, George Clooney and Kirstie Alley.

He currently splits his time between Los Angeles and Oxford, Miss., but his new role in the Miss America Organization means he’ll be spending one week per month in New Jersey, as well as the entire month of August leading up to the pageant, he said.

Haskell, 57, joined the organization’s board in 2005 after the pageant already had departed Atlantic City, but that doesn’t mean he’s unfamiliar with the resort, he said. He helped bring in hosts Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford in the 1990s and twice served as a judge for the contest in the 1980s.

He’s also married to a Miss America contestant. His college sweetheart, Mary Donnelly Haskell, was Miss Mississippi in 1977, and Haskell accompanied her to Atlantic City for the pageant. It was then that he had his first meal at the White House Sub Shop, he recalled Wednesday.

“I think I went there every single day after that,” Haskell said. “I’ve been everywhere from the White House to Buckingham Palace and back, and it’s absolutely the best there is. People are going to roll their eyes, but it’s the truth.”

How the change might affect the organization’s finances wasn’t immediately clear Wednesday. According to the organization’s tax returns, McMaster made $252,136 in 2011, or more than 20 percent of the $1.2 million spent on salaries at the organization. Haskell’s position as chairman of the board of directors is unpaid, as with the rest of the board. Pearce earned $123,194 in 2011 as the organization’s vice president, the returns show.

Pearce did not reply to an email Wednesday inquiring about how the changes would affect salaries.

Contact Jennifer Bogdan:



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