Miss America Pageant will go on as scheduled Saturday; contestants voted 2-1 against canceling

Tuesday, September 18th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) _ The 81st annual Miss America Pageant will go on as scheduled Saturday, despite nationwide mourning and heightened security fears.

Pageant officials decided to proceed after consulting with ABC and taking a vote of the 51 contestants, who were 2-1 against canceling.

Pageant chief executive Robert Renneisen Jr. said the decision was made after much soul-searching, amid fears that going ahead would be seen as disrespectful. He said the pageant has never been canceled.

``The Japanese didn't stop it. Hitler didn't stop it. The Korean War didn't. The Vietnam War didn't. The Persian Gulf War didn't. To allow what is truly a unique American institution to be stopped by a bunch of faceless, cowardly murderers would be the wrong statement for this organization to send,'' Renneisen said Tuesday.

The live, three-hour telecast is being revised to eliminate pyrotechnics, and will also include appeals by host Tony Danza for donations to the victims' families.

Overall, the tone will be more subdued, replacing flash and dazzle with patriotic themes, Renneisen said. He called the pageant ``the nationwide equivalent of a huge USO show'' and said he hoped it would help rally Americans.

``We felt it was important to go ahead with our way of life and not let them win,'' Miss California Stephanie Baldwin said.

Rehearsals were canceled the day of the attacks but have since resumed, under tight security.

Other events have been scrapped, including the pageant parade scheduled for Friday, in which contestants dress up in lavish state-themed costumes and ride down the Boardwalk in convertibles.

City officials cited the difficulty in patrolling the 2 1/2-mile parade route with high-rise casino hotels on one side and open beach on the other. ``It's a security nightmare,'' Renneisen said.

The decision to hold the pageant has drawn some criticism.

``I'm ashamed it's happening in my hometown,'' Christine Roche said. ``Ashes are still falling from the building. People don't even know what happened to their family members, but they're going ahead with this. It just seems very frivolous.''

Pageant officials and police say there have been no threats against the pageant or the parade.

Security has been tightened in and around Boardwalk Hall, where the pageant is held.

``It's got to go on. Miss America is part of America,'' said ``Boardwalk Bob'' Fab, who has sold Miss America Pageant programs on the Boardwalk for 27 years. ``We can't let anybody stop this country. This is America.''