Miss New York Kira Kazantsev — future law student, anti-domestic violence crusader, singer of Pharrell’s “Happy” and player of a red cup — was crowned the Miss America 2015 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on Sunday night. For a few hours on a cool day by the sea in the city once called the Lungs of Philadelphia, all seemed right with area code 609.
But tomorrow is coming. And when it does, the Miss America pageant and the city that hosts it will not be in great shape.
The roll call of dead or endangered casinos along Atlantic Avenue is growing so long that the dreaded semicolon is needed to recount which ones have closed or threatened to close and when. In chronological order: The Atlantic Club Casino Hotel closed in January; the Showboat closed Aug. 31; the Revel, a $2.4 billion property touted by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), closed Sept. 2; Trump Plaza is set to close on Tuesday; and the Trump Taj Mahal is expected to close in November. Adding insult to injury, Donald Trump is suing to have his name removed from the Trump Plaza, which he built.
As The Washington Post’s Mark Berman explained: “At the beginning of the year, Atlantic City was home to a dozen casinos. By Thanksgiving, that number could be cut nearly in a half.” The economic cost is staggering: 6,000 casino employees are expected to file for unemployment and, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, 10,000 jobs will be lost — one-fifth of the city’s workforce.
Atlantic City is in such poor shape that the Miss America Organization presented itself as potential savior.
“Atlantic City is facing a challenging economic climate and our hearts go out to all of those who have lost their jobs,” said Sam Haskell III, the organization’s chief executive. “We hope that our Miss America telecast on Sunday evening on ABC will generate great interest for Atlantic City on a national scale as we showcase their beautiful beaches and Boardwalk.”
Unfortunately for a city in need of a jump start, the Miss America Pageant isn’t exactly as hot as the Apple Watch.
Founded in 1921, the pageant has been an easy target for feminists at least since 1968, when a group called New York Radical Women crowned a sheep Miss America in protest. Yes, Kazantsev spoke out about sexual assault in the military — but the survival of the swimsuit competition and misspelling Jane Austen’s name during broadcast distract from the Miss America Organization’s feel-good motto: “Style, Service, Scholarship and Success.”
What some see as Miss America’s political problems pale in comparison to recent ratings hiccups. In 2004, the pageant was dropped by ABC for what was then considered low ratings — 9.8 million viewers. After languishing on cable for much of a decade, the pageant returned to ABC in 2013 to put up the best numbers since 2004 — an audience of, ahem, 10 million. That such stagnation was considered a great victory speaks to how many fewer people are watching an event once among America’s most-watched television shows, like the Oscars and the Superbowl.
But as data from the pageant’s economic impact on the region in 2013 goes mysteriously un-studied, some are questioning whether “the dream of a million girls who are more than pretty” can revive the fortunes of a city that’s been down on its luck since Hurricane Sandy.
“Atlantic City needs a lot more than the return of the Miss America pageant for it to bring back the jobs that it lost,” Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Union) told nj.com. “The Miss America pageant is not the attraction that it used to be. It certainly has lost its significance and its value.”