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PHILADELPHIA-The very Republican Party ties that won Robert Judge the appointment to head the ailing Downtown Convention Center now threaten his position. An anti-nepotism statute was discovered in the 1986 state law that created the convention authority, prohibiting it hiring a management-level employee who is “a member of the immediate family of a party officer, public officer or public official.”

Judge’s father chairs the Delaware County Republican Party.

Legal wrangling will hinge on whether or not the statute applies only to Philadelphia County, where the center is located, or to neighboring Delaware County.

Early objections to Judge’s appointment were overcome because his ties with the Republican administration in Harrisburg were seen as an advantage in obtaining a state grant for $230 million, half of the cost of a 300,000-sf expansion to double the center’s size. Judge’s tenure is to begin on July 1.

Meanwhile, results of a study by Philadelphia-based Econsult were also unveiled on Friday. They detail problems ranging from labor costs to marketing to customer relations and recommended sweeping change.

The study urges three of the six labor unions –Teamsters, laborers and carpenters –to combine, a recommendation that authority members acknowledge will be difficult to implement.

The study also recommends hiring a chief operating officer with experience in running day-to-day operations, leaving the CEO in charge of working with government bodies to push for expansion.

Although the center is currently having its best year, it is just 55%-booked for 2004 and just 9%-booked for 2007. Major conventions, the report notes, are planned more than a decade in advance.

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