How would Tampa mayoral hopefuls handle 2012 RNC?

02/02/11 Kate Bradshaw
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It may seem like a ways off, but leaders throughout Tampa Bay are preparing for the summer of 2012, when the Republican National Convention will descend upon the region. The handful of candidates for Tampa mayor have different ideas about how to deal with the onslaught of politicos – and protesters – that’s sure to come.

The federal government is giving the city of Tampa $50 million to help cover RNC security costs. How that money will pan out in terms of boots on the ground, artillery, tear gas, and handcuffs is yet to be seen, but four of Tampa’s mayoral hopefuls recently talked to us about how they’d handle the event. Former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco is on the RNC host committee. He said he thinks an inter-agency approach would be fine, though he trusts the Tampa Police Department to keep things contained.

Host cities for the past two Republican National Conventions have been criticized for their treatment of protesters. In both New York City and Minneapolis-St. Paul, protesters and some journalists were hit with tear gas and rubber bullets, and in some cases arrested. Lawsuits over such alleged police brutality during the 2004 RNC cost New York City more than $8 million. Greco, who has already served four terms as mayor, said his administration would deal with the large volume of protesters the way it does on a small scale.

Mayoral hopeful Ed Turanchik, once a Hillsborough County Commissioner, said when he ran Tampa’s Olympic bid he looked at every potential issue the city might have when hosting such a massive event. He said he hopes the federal dollars Tampa receives would help fund technology it can use after the event comes and goes, such as surveillance cameras.

Asked how he thinks the city would deal with a protest getting out of hand, he said such an occurrence wasn’t on his radar.

Former County Commissioner Rose Ferlita said if she were mayor, public safety would be her first priority.

Mayoral hopeful Bob Buckhorn, who once sat on Tampa City Council, said he expects collaboration among law enforcement agencies at all levels will be needed, given the current political climate.

He said when it comes to protests, as mayor he would honor the right to free speech – until someone smashes a window.

Early voting lasts from February 19 through February 26, and Election Day is March 1. The other candidate that qualified for the Tampa Mayor’s race, Tampa City Council Chair Tom Scott, did not return multiple interview requests.

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