RNC attendees give Tampa Bay area mixed reviews as they head home

Published August 31 2012
Updated August 31 2012

TAMPA — It was all over — the speeches, the protests, the late-night parties, the seemingly endless bus rides.

And as GOP delegates filed out of hotels and into the airport early Friday, many reflected on the whirlwind of the Republican National Convention and the city tasked with hosting it.

Reviews were mixed.

Some gushed about Tampa's beauty and history, the food, the fish, the people.

"Oh my God, we loved it," Massachusetts alternate delegate Barbara McCoy, 60, said as she stood outside the Waterside Marriott waiting to be taken to the airport.

"We went to the (Ybor City State) museum and saw the movie. And we went to a lot of cigar shops," she said. "It was fabulous."

Several said the 3,500 uniformed police patrolling the city in droves detracted from the experience.

"Tampa is beautiful. But with all the police and barricades and security, it also felt like it was an occupied country," said Chris Heimburger, 56, from Houston, who came to the RNC to present a support quilt for the Romneys with more than 1,500 signatures and all the state names.

Nice though the police were, delegates said the protesters had a point: At times, Tampa did seem like a police state.

"It's a sight I don't want to see in America," said Scott MacDonald, 40, an alternate delegate from Massachusetts. "They could have toned it down. Some security is a reasonable thing, but so is dissent, so is protest. ... We should support that, not squelch it."

And then there were those buses.

"I don't know why they had the two-bus system," complained Mike Bergsma, 58, a geophysicist and alternate delegate from Corpus Christie, Texas.

Bergsma, who wore a white cowboy hat and a Romney button on his shirt pocket to the airport Friday morning, said he didn't get back to his Saddlebrook Resort room, in Wesley Chapel, until 2 a.m. the first night of the RNC due to poor bus coordination and traffic.

But would they return?

"It's beautiful. I'm coming back for sure," said Sheila Palandjian, who attended the convention from Belmont, Mass., and spent time playing golf at the Vinoy in St. Petersburg and checking out the restaurants along Beach Drive.

Palandjian said next time, she might even go to a Tampa Bay Rays game — "to watch the Red Sox play."

Times staff writers Phillip Morgan, Keeley Sheehan, Jamal Thalji, Drew Harwell and Marissa Lang contributed to this report.