There seemed to be no let-up of the criticism in the days following meetings industry newcomer Cristyne Lategano's confirmation as the president and CEO of the New York Convention & Visitors Bureau. No experience. Too young. Political patronage. These and other barbs flew, especially in the New York media, but at least one industry executive says, "Get over it." International Association of Convention & Visitor Bureaus (IACVB) President and CEO Ed Neilsen believes it's time to rally around Lategano. "I understand the frustration of having a totally inexperienced person in that position," Neilsen says, "but it's important to be fair and to get her up and running."

At 34, Lategano is the youngest person to head a major metropolitan convention and visitors bureau, but she shows no fear in facing her detractors. "There's always controversy in New York City, so it's something that we're used to," Lategano says. "Give me a chance to do the job. Criticize me on my record. Six months from now, they can criticize me, but now, four days on the job, there's no basis for it."

The New York Convention and Visitors Bureau announced Lategano's appointment at the end of September, and she officially began her duties on October 1. Before that, she worked in New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani's administration, where in January 1993 she made her mark as the youngest person--at 28 years old--and only the second woman to serve as Giuliani's press secretary.Brooklyn-born Lategano says she saw the opportunity for her dream job when former NYCVB president and CEO Fran Reiter called her to let her know she was stepping down from that position to pursue a run for mayor of New York City. "The greatest job in the world had just opened up. . . . There's nothing more I'd rather be doing than promoting the city of New York," Lategano says.

It is true that Lategano's background is politics, but as IACVB's Neilsen points out, such an appointment is not without precedent. The Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau split its top position last year and hired as CEO the politically connected Jim Reilly, former CEO of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which manages McCormick Place and Navy Pier. In making the move, the Chicago CTB hopes to expand its agenda to fundraising and legislative advocacy. Neilsen believes the industry may just need leaders with the same skills it takes to be a good politician. It's all about "the ability to deliver high-impact testimony, communicate with the media, and know about image development and management," he says.

"Cristyne Lategano's appointment is not adverse for New York," Neilsen believes. "It's a wake-up call, at least on the CVB side."