TAMPA —Some Florida Republicans have suggested that Tampa could host the party’s national convention this summer if North Carolina doesn’t loosen its restrictions on large gatherings, put in place to thwart the spread of the coronavirus.
But local leaders have offered concise rebukes of the idea, noting both the undertaking of preparing for an event that size and the public health concerns.
“It would be irresponsible to consider hosting a convention of that scale at this time,” said Tampa Mayor Jane Castor’s spokeswoman, Ashley Bauman, Wednesday.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman echoed his counterpart: “Putting on an event of this size and scale takes months and months of preparation,” he said in a Facebook Live appearance Tuesday. "So I don’t see how realistically that can even happen.”
Setting aside concerns about large gatherings and the spread of COVID-19, the colossal task of preparing for a national political convention that draws tens of thousands from across the country makes it nearly impossible to throw together starting in late May, even in the best of times, said former Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who occupied City Hall in 2012 when Tampa last hosted the Republican National Convention.
"We spent literally two years and, between us and the federal government, tens of millions of dollars in preparation for that convention, which is a worldwide event,” Buckhorn said.
The 2012 security budget, which the federal government covered, was $50 million. That paid for, among other things, encasing the convention — which straddled the hockey arena and the Tampa Convention Center — in concrete and steel barricades, plus the costs of housing, feeding and paying an additional 3,500 law enforcement officers from around the state.
Buckhorn posited that even finding that many spare officers in Florida during the pandemic could be difficult.
Finding hotel space for the tens of thousands of attendees would be also likely be a challenge. In 2012, state delegations stayed as far out as Clearwater.
“I don’t know how any city could do justice to the convention with only (three) months preparation," Buckhorn said. “We literally set the bar for how these conventions should be run in 2012. To think we could do it as well or better in 2020 given all the dynamics of this virus is just crazy, absolutely crazy.”
The path to Tampa started after a Monday Twitter thread in which President Donald Trump threatened to back out of Charlotte, North Carolina, if the governor, Democrat Roy Cooper, couldn’t commit to allowing the convention to take place given the state’s limitations on large gatherings.
“Plans are being made by many thousands of enthusiastic Republicans, and others, to head to beautiful North Carolina in August. They must be immediately given an answer by the Governor as to whether or not the space will be allowed to be fully occupied. If not, we will be reluctantly forced to find, with all of the jobs and economic development it brings, another Republican National Convention site,” Trump wrote in a thread that spanned several tweets.
Following the president’s tweets, the idea snowballed through successive public comments by Republicans until the Cigar City was name-dropped.
From there, Vice President Mike Pence mentioned Florida on Fox News. That same morning, Republican Party of Florida Vice Chairman Christian Ziegler took to Twitter to urge Trump to choose “Orlando, Miami, Jacksonville, Tampa, or any of our other great cities.”
Local leaders dismissed the notion out of hand.
Bauman noted that Florida is days away from what experts fear could be an extremely active hurricane season, and Tampa is already preparing for another major event that would follow the convention by about five months: the 2021 Super Bowl, scheduled for next February.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry had a different reaction to his city being name checked, tweeting Tuesday that Jacksonville “would be honored” to host the convention. Curry is a former Republican Party of Florida chairman, and Jacksonville is just north of the congressional district that Gov. Ron DeSantis, whom Curry once described as “a brother from another mother," represented before he became the state’s chief executive. Trump endorsed DeSantis in his gubernatorial bid and the pair talk frequently.
Buckhorn said his concerns weren’t partisan, rather rooted in logistics and health. Former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, a Democrat, bid for the 2012 convention, and Buckhorn himself is a Democrat. He noted the health risks associated with cramming an arena full of people who fly in from all over the country, and who will all fly home.
“Wearing a red (Make America Great Again) hat doesn’t inoculate you from the transmission of diseases,” he said. "This city has really done well with social distancing policies. And to think that we would be interested in hosting 50,000 people from all over the country, I think would be a mistake.”
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