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New chairman targets GOP team setting up 2012 national convention in Tampa

There's a new Republican national chairman in office, and he's about to clean house on the team putting together the 2012 Republican convention in Tampa.

Responding to complaints about excessive spending by the convention team, newly elected chairman Reince Priebus told Republican U.S. House members in a closed-door meeting Saturday that he was going to replace the convention team in Tampa Bay with his own team, Politico reported Saturday.

The RNC has about a half-dozen staffers working on the convention out of donated office space in downtown Tampa, but the work has drawn considerable criticism and helped fuel opposition to former chairman Michael Steele. For instance, he hired his former assistant, Belinda Cook, for $15,000 per month, and she spent thousands of dollars renting a 3,200-square-foot waterfront Treasure Island home.

Priebus is expected to fly to Tampa next week to review the early convention operations.

"He has a right to and should ensure the finances are handled properly. His determination is there need to be some changes,'' said U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fort Myers, stressing that Tampa has no chance of losing the convention.

The RNC's convention-planning arm, known as the committee on arrangements, through September had already spent $636,000. Cook has said much of the early spending was on legal bills for hotel and venue contracts executed earlier than in prior conventions.

The committee on arrangements, funded with a federal grant of about $18 million, operates separately from the Tampa host committee, which is working to raise $50 million.

"We'll support whatever the RNC chairman does. We're excited to be working with the chairman on the convention,'' said Ken Jones, chief executive of the host committee. "To the extent the RNC chairman makes staff changes, we'll work with those staff people cooperatively."

Priebus, 38, is former chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party, and beat out Steele and four other candidates for national chairman at a party election Friday. Considerably less flamboyant than Steele, Priebus won the post promising more accountability and a focus on raising money.

Florida should have plenty of sway at the national GOP, and not just because it is a must-win for Republicans in the 2012 presidential election. Republican national committeewoman Sharon Day of Fort Lauderdale was elected co-chairwoman of the RNC. And Priebus graduated from the University of Miami School of Law, a schoolmate of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

Times staff writer Alex Leary contributed to this report. Adam Smith can be reached at asmith@sptimes.com.

New chairman targets GOP team setting up 2012 national convention in Tampa 01/15/11 [Last modified: Saturday, January 15, 2011 9:21pm]
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