HARRISBURG, Aug. 18. As Chair of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus (PLBC), I am writing to express my support for Ahmeenah Young, President and CEO of the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority. Recently, John Dougherty, Business Manager of IBEW Local Union 98, made defamatory comments against Ms. Young. Dougherty claimed that the Convention Center is engaged in a “secretive, union-busting agenda,” and that Young is one of a series of “inexperienced political appointee(s) attempting to lead the Center – with little success.” He also said she lacks experience in convention industry management. Sadly, Dougherty has not apologized for his outrageous comments.
Ahmeenah Young has an impressive 23 years of experience in the hospitality and tourism industry, and a stellar reputation. She has demonstrated strong qualifications, leadership and results. Prior to her current position, she held a number of top management positions with the Convention Center. In addition, she served as General Manager of the Independence Visitors Center, and served as Vice President of Corporate Diversity at SearchWide, where she specialized in recruiting senior management for the hospitality and tourism industry and various other industries. Young’s two predecessors, both of whom are white men, did not have these qualifications.
“As a strong supporter of labor and the only African-American and Democratic woman member of the House Labor Relations Committee, I am proud to have Ahmeenah Young in her role,” said State Rep. Cherelle Parker, D-Phila. (200th Legislative District), a member of the PLBC. “Of the nearly 90 convention centers in this country, only two are headed by an African-American woman, and Ahmeenah Young is one of them. She possesses the experience that is necessary for an undertaking as large as the Pennsylvania Convention Center.” Rep. Parker added: “With an extensive record of service in community development, Ms. Young is a board member of Temple University’s School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, the National Forum for Black Public Administrators, and the Philadelphia Airport. She also sits on the Executive Committee of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau. ”
“Ahmeenah Young is the right person to lead the Pennsylvania Convention Center at this critical moment. I am proud of Ms. Young’s accomplishments,” said State Rep. W. Curtis Thomas, D-Phila. (181st Legislative District), also a PLBC member. “I am appalled that Mr. Dougherty has attempted to categorize Ms. Young as inexperienced and ineffective in her current position. Ms. Young has over 20 years of leadership experience in the hospitality industry. The majority of these years were spent progressing through management within the PCC itself. It is precisely Ms. Young’s intimate knowledge of the Pennsylvania Convention Center which has allowed her to oversee the $790 million expansion project which is currently well underway.”
In her current role, Ms. Young is overseeing the massive expansion of the convention center– the largest construction site in the history of Pennsylvania. This will make the center the largest exhibit space in the Northeast corridor. Plus, it will allow Philadelphia and the commonwealth to compete with other parts of the nation in terms of tourism, and will bring badly needed jobs to Pennsylvania.
Due to Young’s foresight and planning, the project is on schedule and on budget for its March 2011 opening. So far, $520 million in contracts have been awarded on the project, with over 1 million hours of work performed on the site. Meeting and exhibit space will be increased by 60 percent, allowing two conventions to be held at the same time. Moreover, the expansion will have an economic impact of 280,000 additional hotel-room nights at $140 million per year, and will create 18,700 jobs worth $1 billion. Already, the convention center has booked $2.5 billion in new business for 2011 and beyond.
“Mr. Dougherty has also advanced the disingenuous claim that Ms. Young has an anti-union agenda,” said Rep. Thomas. “I, for one, see absolutely no basis to this claim when you consider that the current expansion has meant steady employment for some 1,800 dues paying union members during the worst recession to hit this city in decades. I invite Mr. Dougherty to clarify exactly how Ms. Young is going about her alleged union-busting while preserving critical jobs for IBEW Local 98 and over a dozen other Philadelphia unions.”
Under Ahmeenah Young’s leadership, hundreds of people are being put to work, including Mr. Dougherty’s union. Mr. Dougherty was asked to apologize for his offensive statement by a group of African-American professionals, business owners and executives. Obviously, Mr. Dougherty is not required to respond or provide an apology. However, I must ask if this is open season on black leaders, both elected officials and people with high-ranking positions in their respective professions. We cannot forget what happened just a few weeks ago on the federal level when negative statements were made against Shirley Sherrod, then-Georgia State Director of Rural Development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Excerpts of a speech given by Ms. Sherrod were taken out of context, creating a misrepresentation of her true character.
Whether an apology from Mr. Dougherty is forthcoming or not, and whether he misspoke or not, it is up to those of us who are champions of job creation, diversity and inclusion to take a stand. Ahmeenah Young has done an outstanding job, and should be applauded as a role model who gets things done.
State Rep. Ronald G. Waters, Chairman
Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus
State Representative, 191st Legislative District