ATLANTIC CITY — It was a cold winter for the iconic but wobbly Miss America pageant. Rocked by a scandal in which vulgar emails were traded by top male executives, then dropped by Dick Clark Productions, the Miss America Organization regrouped with former pageant winner Gretchen Carlson named president of the board.
No date for the pageant had been set, and its multimillion-dollar state subsidy, part of a three-way contract that included Dick Clark Productions, was in question.
But on Tuesday, the 97-year-old Boardwalk institution got a $4.3 million lifeline from a state agency, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, that has been among its most loyal supporters.
"The CRDA is encouraged by the Miss America Organization's description that [this year's] competition will be updated to include a focus on women's empowerment and other related projects," said board chairman Robert Mulcahy.
Brent Adams, vice president of development for Miss America, attended the meeting and thanked the board but declined to comment further. Hours later, the Miss America Organization issued a statement saying it was "pleased" with the action, which it said signified a partnership with the pageant and the state of New Jersey "to work together to produce the next generation of female leaders."
But still, no date was announced for the 2018 pageant. "Stay tuned," the statement said.
The three-year, multimillion-dollar boost had been increasingly unpopular with elected officials, who see the money as a relic of the historic but waning love of the pageant by its host city, funds that could be better spent elsewhere, they believe. When the scandal broke in December, some in town, including current Mayor Frank Gilliam, said the state should seize the opportunity to cut the cord. (Also on Tuesday, the CRDA denied a request by a local pastor for a $50,000 loan or grant to expand a community gardening project).
On Tuesday, Gilliam was among the board members voting unanimously to approve the final year of the contract. He declined to comment further after the meeting, as did other board members.
William Cheatham, a resident of Atlantic City, told the board to support the current female leadership of the pageant, which includes Carlson and other former Miss Americas Kate Shindle, Heather French Henry, and Laura Kaeppeler Fleiss.
"Give the ladies a chance," Cheatham said.
"That's what we're trying to do," responded Mulcahy.
"This pageant has been around a long time," Cheatham said. "I'm sure some of you on this board would like to kick it out of existence altogether. The pageant belongs here in Atlantic City."
He added that women used to run the pageant. "Some of you gentlemen don't know how to handle it when it comes to women's programming," he added.
"That's an awfully broad brush," replied Richard Tolson, a board member.
Dick Clark Productions was quick to drop Miss America after learning of the emails, but the CRDA held back any decision and did not take action even after learning that Dick Clark was no longer part of the contract. Other contractual issues had plagued the three-way agreement, with Atlantic City never getting a coveted spot on Dick Clark's ABC broadcast New Year's Rockin' Eve as was promised.
And the state agency knew back in October that Dick Clark had severed its ties with the pageant. two months before the disclosure in the Huffington Post of vulgar emails that led to a shake-up of the Miss America Organization. But the CRDA took no action until Dec. 19, when a letter was sent to Michael Mahan, president of Dick Clark Productions, and Sam Haskell, then-CEO of Miss America, asking to discuss a possible breach of their three-way contract.
The Huffington Post story described emails sent by since-terminated CEO Haskell and a writer with the organization, and reported that Dick Clark Productions had terminated the relationship with the organization after being informed of the emails in August.
In its report, the Huffington Post detailed emails among pageant executives ridiculing former Miss America winners, describing them with coarse language, and gossiping about their sex lives. Other than firing the writer who corresponded with Haskell, the organization took no action until the emails were made public and initially said it considered the matter resolved. Since then, with a huge outcry among Miss America winners and others, most of the board has been replaced.
Carlson has indicated that changes are in store and has not ruled out eliminating the swimsuit portion of the pageant, which began as a bathing-beauty contest on the Boardwalk.