ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Miss America is back in Atlantic City, just in time to brighten the mood in this dazed gambling city licking its wounds from the closure of a third of its casinos.
The 53 contestants met the public Wednesday afternoon on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. Entrants from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands appeared at the traditional welcoming ceremony across from Boardwalk Hall.
Preliminary competition will begin next Tuesday. This is the second year that the pageant, which began in Atlantic City, has returned to its roots after six years in Las Vegas.
The ceremony came hours after the first of 5,000 casino workers who lost their jobs over the holiday weekend began filing for unemployment, health insurance and food stamps. The Showboat and Revel shut down over the weekend; Trump Plaza, next door to Boardwalk Hall, where the winner will be crowned Sept. 14, is shutting down two days after that. And the Atlantic Club closed in January.
All told, about 8,000 workers will have lost their jobs.
"I look at Miss America as the jewel in the crown of Atlantic City," said Sam Haskell, CEO of the Miss America Organization. "My heart breaks for the people losing their jobs. But I am confident that the economic boost Miss America brings to Atlantic City will create some calm to sooth the disappointment of these closures."
John Palmieri, executive director of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, said at the ceremony that Miss America should generate about $30 million worth of economic activity in the region.
Fresh off a visit to the White House a day earlier, where they met with some of President Barack Obama's advisers, the contestants crossed the Boardwalk and walked onto a stage where they signed a map of their home state, introduced themselves and detailed their career plans.
Among the would-be Miss Americas are aspiring doctors, veterinarians, meteorologists, broadcast journalists, music therapists and a future sports agent.
As usual, Miss New Jersey got the loudest cheers from the hometown crowd. Cierra Kaler-Jones said she's excited to represent her state, given her family ties to Atlantic City.
"As the child of two casino workers," she said, "it is historic for me to be participating in this."
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC .