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Tampa, Charlotte mayors: Don't let debt ceiling debate delay funds for 2012 political conventions

TAMPA — Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Charlotte, N.C., Mayor Anthony Foxx went to Washington this week with the same message:

Don't let partisan rancor over the national debt get in the way of $100 million-plus in federal funds the cities need to police next year's Republican and Democratic national conventions.

"In spite of the debt ceiling debate and the sort of overheated rhetoric, we have conventions to put on and the federal government has obligations to provide security costs," Buckhorn said Wednesday.

"Everyone that we spoke to acknowledged that was correct," he said. "Where they differed was how the money was to be allocated."

Could the debt ceiling debate hang up funds for convention security?

"It could, but I don't think that it will," said U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores, a former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

So far, lawmakers have put $4 million in an appropriations bill covering, among other things, grants to local law enforcement for the conventions.

"They're calling that a placeholder," said Young, who met with the mayors this week.

The House Appropriations Committee has noted that the Obama administration hasn't asked for any convention security money, but it expects future budget requests to address those needs.

Leaders in both parties want those numbers, Young said. He anticipates the bill will include the necessary money and receive full congressional approval by the end of September.

Past conventions have received up to $50 million, which goes to the cities, not the parties, Young said, and it's needed.

"How many bridges do we have that we've got to protect?" he asked, adding that many delegates will stay in Pinellas County.

The Republican National Convention meets in Tampa from Aug. 27 to 30, 2012, and could draw more than 10,000 protesters. Democrats meet a week later in Charlotte.

Local officials are still calculating how many officers they'll need, but previous conventions have required 3,500 to 4,200 officers, Tampa Assistant Police Chief Marc Hamlin said.

By comparison, the Tampa Police Department has nearly a thousand sworn police officers; the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office has about 1,100 deputies; and both agencies still must enforce the law in their communities during the convention.

To meet the demand for extra officers, local officials will put out a call to other agencies once they determine their needs.

They first will ask neighboring agencies in the hopes of keeping down the cost of lodging officers from outside Hillsborough.

At previous conventions, the cost of paying, feeding and housing law enforcement personnel from other agencies ate up about two-thirds of the federal security appropriation, Hamlin said.

Hamlin and Tampa police Chief Jane Castor recently spoke to the Florida Police Chiefs Association about the city's convention needs. A sheriff's administrator is expected to take the same message to the Florida Sheriffs Association next month.

For some jobs, such as reacting to protesters, officials expect to use mostly Tampa officers and Hillsborough deputies. Striking a balance between respecting the rights of lawful protesters and quelling violent unrest is expected to be one of the toughest duties of the convention.

"We will take the brunt" of that, Hamlin said.

Officials also need to buy security equipment like surveillance cameras, and Buckhorn said that can't wait until the spring.

"We need this money by the end of the year," Buckhorn said he and Foxx told federal officials.

On Monday and Tuesday, the two mayors met with the staffs of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, plus White House staff members.

They also met with the chairmen of the Republican and Democratic national committees and members of Tampa Bay's congressional delegation.

About a month ago, Castor and Charlotte police brass made a similar trip to Capitol Hill.

That's exactly what Tampa officials should be doing, said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, who is not related to Jane Castor.

"Their schedule is intense, and they're visiting everyone," she said.

"That is what's going to ensure that Tampa has all the security funding it needs."

Tampa, Charlotte mayors: Don't let debt ceiling debate delay funds for 2012 political conventions 07/13/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 13, 2011 10:52pm]
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