ATLANTIC CITY — Changes to the Miss America Organization in the wake of an email scandal aren’t enough to justify giving it a $4 million-per-year subsidy to stay here, state lawmakers said Tuesday.
Joining them in the call to pull financing from the competition is John Palmieri, former head of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority. Palmieri, who left his position at the end of 2016, helped negotiate the Miss America deal two years ago.
And he says the biggest issue has been performance.
“Miss America Organization did very little to market and promote the pageant,” Palmieri said Tuesday. “They were supposed to do that. They kept coming to us asking us for money.”
Last week, the state agency said it was still reviewing its options regarding the future of the contract.
The unfavorable financing and lack of performance was a common refrain by Palmieri and South Jersey lawmakers.
Since returning to the resort in 2013, the competition has negotiated larger subsidies from the CRDA, while its television ratings have declined.
The board shakeup and the resignation of Miss America Organization CEO Sam Haskell followed the release of emails containing abusive and lewd comments about past contestants.
“The CRDA needs to seriously rethink and prioritize how it spends its money, and it should start with its subsidy to the MAO,” Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, said in a statement.
On Monday, the board named Miss America 1989 Gretchen Carlson as chairwoman. Three other former Miss Americas also have joined the board.
In February 2016, Miss America and the state agency agreed to a three-year deal to keep the competition in the resort through 2018. Under the contract, Miss America will receive about $11.9 million in state subsidies during the life of the contract.
When the contract was approved, supporters touted the amount of the national TV exposure the city would get from the telecast.
That was more than in 2013, when CRDA and the now-defunct Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority agreed on a $7.3 million subsidy over three years to get the competition to return from Las Vegas.
Palmieri described Haskell as “difficult” to work with during the most recent negotiations with the state agency.
“Our board was frustrated, but of course the importance of the pageant prevailed,” Palmieri said. “We just tried to create a deal that was workable.”
While praising the changes to the board, Mazzeo said the city is not getting enough back for its investment.
Mazzeo said the biggest factor should be whether Miss America was delivering a good return on investment.
“To me, it’s clear it’s not worth the $4 million/year investment.” Mazzeo said. “I would love for Miss America to continue to call Atlantic City its home, but it should do so without the CRDA subsidy.”
Assemblyman Chris Brown said the CRDA should look at spending its money on events or projects that benefit Atlantic County residents.
“Which is why it doesn’t make sense to keep throwing taxpayer dollars trying to promote the resort through an event whose marketing ability and TV audience gets smaller and smaller each year,” said Brown, R-Atlantic.
Jim Kennedy, former head of the state authority, said Miss America was created to keep visitors in the resort an extra week following Labor Day weekend.
“CRDA funding makes sense if the Miss America pageant fills hotel rooms,” Kennedy said. “It hasn’t made sense in a long time.”