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Convention fits city -- in alternate universe

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By JAN GLIDEWELL, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published July 21, 2002

Hmmm . . . a major political party convention in Tampa.

That makes sense in:

A city that can't handle traffic problems that occur when a handful of diehard fans trickle out of a sports venue after the latest lackluster performance of one of its allegedly professional teams.

A city where some of the police officers say they are so understaffed that their safety and that of the public are at risk.

A city where the mayor says he hopes the convention won't cost the taxpayers anything, although organizers had estimated earlier, according to a St. Petersburg Times story, that it would cost the public about $10-million.

Okay, a $10-million gap in the numbers might not mean much in these days of outsourced creative bookkeeping, but in Florida, governments are required to cook their own books, and we poor folks might like to see that one narrowed down a little.

At the last Republican National Convention, Times staff writer David Karp reports, city leaders in Philadelphia thought private donors would pay most of the costs, but the taxpayers wound up shelling out $38.9-million.

At least we know nobody in government or big business will lie to us.

In addition to wanting massive convention and meeting facilities, the convention folks want things such as parking for 1,500 cars and 300 buses, which ought to be heartening to anyone who has tried to find a parking space in downtown Tampa recently.

The GOP also wants things such as 20,000 first-class hotel rooms and 2,000 one- and two- bedroom suites under party control, and a deal on reservation deposits.

And the convention folks also want a guarantee that food and beverages at hotels (all of which routinely skyrocket during major events) will be at the best price available 18 months before the convention.

Hmmm . . . now that could work. If they mean the best price available exactly 18 months before the convention, that would mean that conventioneers, here in August, which is off-season, would be paying the best price that was available in February, which is midseason. I'll bet a lot of folks in the hospitality business can live with that one.

Or it could mean at the best price available during the 18 months before the convention, without knowing which economic factors might occur during that time. Believe it or not, a lot can happen in 18 months. Ask anyone with a 401(k).

Tampa, once again, is all atwitter over having made a short list. You would think a city that has been on more short lists than nominees for the munchkins hall of fame would be a little more cynical by now, but the backslapping already has started.

Also on the list are New York, sure to be an emotional favorite as it climbs from the ashes of Sept. 11, and New Orleans, which has the added advantage of being able to provide conventioneers with fun.

(Not that riding the not-yet-completed trolley to Ybor City to avoid parking bandits won't be a lot of fun, especially if you are downtown where the entertainment options are pretty well limited to a bar named The Hub or a trip over to Channelside in hopes of finding something happening.)

I did like one quote that came out of the news story about Tampa's being on the list.

The Republican Party needs "a high degree of comfort that the (city) will actually accomplish what they say they will accomplish."

Gee, I've felt that way about the Republican Party before, and the Democrats for that matter, and my comfort degree ain't what it used to be.

It could well be that the Republicans might look toward downsizing the convention a little, what with it actually being only a coronation.

And downsizing is relatively simple. Just make the convention a publicly held corporation, sell a lot of stock to unsuspecting suckers, find a company that should be named Incompetents-Are-Us to do your books and then fire everybody except top management representatives, who will be required to memorize a short speech asserting their Fifth Amendment rights.

And let's keep in mind that the decision hasn't been made yet. There will probably be some kind of vote.

Maybe they will use butterfly ballots.

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