After a year of trying to anticipate every potential hiccup and possible nightmare scenario, the moment of reckoning is upon those tasked with pulling off a safe and secure Republican National Convention—as a possible hurricane draws near.
The U.S. Secret Service is leading the charge on securing the convention hall and a hardened perimeter around it. Four hundred charter buses will be on hand to form motorcades and transport delegates from their hotels to the convention center, and many of the main thoroughfares in Tampa and nearby St. Petersburg will be temporarily shut down.
The Secret Service will also be getting assists from a host of federal, state, and local law-enforcement agencies, from the FBI to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the U.S. Coast Guard.
But much of the ironing-out of other logistical details—tweaking city ordinances to accommodate convention festivities and, most importantly, managing the hundreds of protesters who will inevitably flood into the city—is falling to local officials. It’s no small task for Tampa with a population of about 350,000, the smallest convention host city since Democrats held their event in Atlantic City, N.J., in 1964.
Tampa officials said they knew that putting on such a massive political event—one expected to attract tens of thousands of journalists, delegates, and political spectators and thrust mid-sized
Tampa into the national spotlight—wouldn’t be easy, even for a city that has hosted multiple Super Bowls.
“We are as well prepared and as well-trained ... as any city possibly could be,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said in an interview with National Journal in July. “I’m sure we’ll make mistakes. I’m sure in spite of thousands of hours spent trying to anticipate potential scenarios, there will be something that we will miss. But it won’t be for having not prepared.”
Four thousand uniformed police officers will be on hand to guard against mayhem, including 1,000 of the Tampa police force and 3,000 others being brought in from 59 law-enforcement agencies around Florida.
The Homeland Security Department also has designated both conventions “national special-security events,” and awarded a $50 million grant to Charlotte and Tampa to cover security expenses. In Tampa, part of that includes $500,000 for 1,700 new khaki uniforms that will help keep officers on duty cool in the balmy Florida heat.
“For me, showing overwhelming force will be the best deterrent to potential problems,” Buckhorn said.
One thing is for certain: No one wants a repeat of the fiasco in 2008, when during the Republican convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul demonstrators smashed car windows and got into confrontations with police, leading to almost 800 arrests. Buckhorn has said he’s aiming for a much lower number—somewhere in the vicinity of 100.
City officials have set up an official parade route and a speaker’s platform for demonstrators, and designated an “event zone” where protesters can rally within sight and sound of the Tampa Bay Times Forum, open 24 hours a day, but with specific rules governing the area, including a long list of banned items.
All are keeping their fingers crossed that the whole thing goes off without a hitch, although Tropical Storm Isaac may throw another wrench into the works.
“There are many who are relishing the chance to put Tampa on the map,” Tampa City Council member Lisa Montelione told National Journal earlier this summer. “But you know, as with any major event, there’s always an anxiety.”
This article appears in the August 27, 2012, edition of NJ Convention Daily.