Thursday, April 19, 2018
Politics

RNC goofs, then late bus loops for hour with Florida delegation

STUCK ON A BUS

After a day spent waiting, the Republican National Convention started for real at 2 p.m. Tuesday with Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus launching the first of many attacks against President Barack Obama. Finally, Florida's moment in the political sun — forever captured in these words and stories. Which, for Florida's delegates, is a good thing. They missed it.

The delay was not of their making.

Delegates were to board buses at noon to head from the Innisbrook Golf and Spa Resort in Palm Harbor to the Tampa Bay Times Forum 30 miles away.

That did not happen, however, because delegates were told the Republican National Committee forgot to send the buses.

"Well, that sucks," said Hillsborough County GOP chairman Art Wood, wiping sweat from his brow. It was 90 degrees out. "I guess it won't be the first glitch."

It was not.

The buses finally showed up about 12:30. After an hour's bus ride, one bus of delegates arrived in downtown Tampa with a half-hour to spare.

But at that point, for reasons unknown, the bus driver took a wrong turn.

Passengers exchanged puzzled looks as the bus kept driving, farther and farther away from the Times Forum. Minutes later, the building vanished from view and the bus was turning back onto Kennedy Boulevard.

"We were there, why didn't they drop us off? muttered Steve Czonstka, a delegate from Okaloosa County.

At 1:35 p.m., the driver made a full loop and turned onto Franklin Street, where a security checkpoint awaited. For five minutes, the bus tried unsuccessfully to squeeze between the tent and the street curb.

Driver Rio Davis had to back the bus up and try another route.

This got the bus talking. It was now 1:55 p.m.

"We should get out and walk," said one woman delegate. "We should have done that 25 minutes ago."

"Who's in charge, Art?" asked another delegate, directing the question to Wood, who just shook his head.

At 2:08 p.m., though the delegates likely did not know this, the RNC emailed a statement to the Tampa Bay Times.

"The buses arrived and transported delegates — although we acknowledge there are always a lot of moving parts on the first full day of activities. We expect our transportation system to become more efficient in the days ahead."

Back on the bus, rather than turn toward the Times Forum, Davis again turned the bus away, stirring what was getting close to panic among the passengers.

Once again, the bus turned onto Kennedy, prompting one delegate to consider something drastic.

"I'm about to storm off this bus," he said. Others agreed.

Minutes later, passengers began shouting at the driver, Davis, with heated suggestions.

"Stop the bus and let us out!" one shouted.

It was 2:15 p.m. now, the convention was under way, and the delegation from Florida was brooding.

As the bus did another loop, a couple of delegates pounded the windows when they spotted pedestrians.

"Let us out of here!" they shouted.

"The driver must be a Democrat," said another.

Kathleen King, secretary of Florida's GOP, walked toward the front of the bus to figure out what was going on. It was now 2:20 p.m.

She huddled with Davis, the bus driver, and came back with an announcement.

"It's not the driver's fault," King told passengers as she walked back to her seat. "The poor driver, he's really worried and frustrated."

Davis would later say that at the first drop-off point, officers wouldn't let him stop and waved at him to keep driving.

"They must have thought the bus was empty," Davis said.

Somehow, the bus arrived at the Times Forum not too long thereafter.

Delegates then quickly filed out of the bus and into the Tampa sun.

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