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PHILADELPHIA-Despite objections from area hotel representatives, the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority has named Robert A. Judge, Sr. president and chief executive officer of the authority and urban convention center. He succeeds Bob Butera, who held the post since the opening of the center in 1993 and retired this year for health reasons.

Judge’s tenure begins July 1.

Butera’s resignation launched a national search. The Greater Philadelphia Hotel Authority not only urged the authority to hire someone with experience in running a convention center, but also lobbied Philadelphia Mayor John F. Street to consider privatization of the center in order to stem labor problems that plague it.

According to published reports, labor costs at the center are 30% higher than the industry average. The return rate for conventions averages just 17%.

The board ruled out privatization. “There’s nothing magic about working with the private sector,” says Bernard C. Watson, chairman of the authority, in a printed statement.

Judge is the former corporate secretary of the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority on the upper Delaware River. Previously, he was revenue secretary in former Pennsylvania Governor Thomas Ridge’s administration. Judge’s Republican ties run deep. His father, Thomas Judge, has chaired the Delaware County Republican Party since the mid-1970s.

Some members of the Convention Center Authority see these ties as a strength as the authority seeks a $230-million state grant to cover half the cost of the planned $464-million, 300,000-sf expansion of the center. The expansion would add a ballroom and more exhibition and meeting space.

Critics of the Judge appointment, however, point to former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell’s victory in the May Democratic gubernatorial primary. Philadelphia voters were widely credited with Rendell’s victory. Efforts are underway across party lines in Philadelphia to propel the locally popular former mayor into the Pennsylvania governor’s mansion in Harrisburg in November.

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