Tampa preparing for roll of dice at GOP convention

You've probably heard that old joke: What are a redneck's last words?

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And so it probably falls along similar lines that bringing the Republican National Convention to Tampa next summer seemed like a perfectly bully idea at the time.

We all recall the big build-up to bring the Republicans and their spats to Tampa for the lavish coronation of their presidential candidate, which at the moment seems to be whoever can avoid: A) Not being named Mitt; B) Not coming off as loopier than Blazing Saddles' Mongo; and/or C) Avoiding being the subject of a news conference called by annoyed feminist lawyer Gloria Allred.

So it was that Tampa caught the fancy of the RNC, and before you could say: "Ronald Reagan. Shining city on the hill. And Obamacare equals satanic socialism," everyone started dreaming about all that patriotic bunting, Uncle Sams on stilts and sitting through 3,582 renditions of Lee Greenwood's God Bless the USA.

It was all going to be Americana-squared.

But as Tampa prepares to greet all those Republicans in their funny elephant hats, the city is also girding itself to contend with at least an estimated 15,000 protesters who are even more wadded than Gloria Allred thumbing through Herman Cain's book: Herman Cain! My Journey To Becoming A National Punchline.

Only 15,000 demonstrators? Expect the city to attract at least that many people simply to protest breastfeeding. And that is not entirely facetious.

More darkly, city, convention and law enforcement officials are fretting over the arrival of what they view as "anarchists" bent on physically disrupting the convention, intimidating conventioneers and possibly engaging in acts of violence.

Or put another way, there are serious and legitimate concerns Tampa could be plunged into chaos, with the streets clogged and evil-doers doing evil throughout the city. Think Ybor City on a weekend.

Good times. Good times.

Still, it has to be said that the RNC, local GOP hotsy-tots and then-Mayor Pam Iorio were fully aware of the potential to turn Tampa into Tripoli long before the city lobbied so hard to be selected to host the convention.

In recent years civil unrest has been as common at political conventions as bloviating speeches. Indeed, as recently as 2008, so-called anarchist groups (who were amazingly well organized for anarchists) managed to cause all manner of trouble during the Republican convention in St. Paul.

It is curious that during all the red carpet, fawning treatment of Republican selection site officials to lure the GOP to the city, precious little was made of the possibility Tampa would also be playing host to thousands of protesters, including a few packing their Chicago Seven starter kits.

Wooing a political convention is a great civic gamble.

On one hand, the city will be the focus of national news for a week, a terrific opportunity for Tampa to show off its skyline, its unique culture, its hospitality. So far, so good.

But the city and Republican potentates also know — and so should you, if you happen to be potentate-challenged — that those thousands of cops who will be in the streets won't be there to protect and defend against illegal left-hand turns.

All it will take are images of ill-timed lobbing of tear gas cylinders, or a cracked skull or two, or scenes of riot police wading into a throng of protesters to transform the city's image from tolerant to tyrannical.

The city and the GOP knew the gamble they were taking.

But it's the mischief-makers who will be rolling the dice.

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Tampa preparing for roll of dice at GOP convention 12/03/11 [Last modified: Saturday, December 3, 2011 3:30am]

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