In a month and a half, 50,000 people will descend upon Tampa, Florida for the Republican National Convention. The mayor of that city, Bob Buckhorn, is going to play host — even though he’s a Democrat.
Hosting a political party’s national convention comes with a lot of responsibilities for city government. Tampa’s population will grow by about 15 percent, and all those people need accommodations. Not all of Tampa’s visitors will be Republican VIPs: with any national convention, thousands of protesters are part of the bargain.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn discusses the new job responsibilities that come with the RNC, what the convention means for his city, and his role as a Democratic host to the nation's most powerful Republicans and their critics.
"There's a flavor to Tampa that doesn't exist in a lot of other, particularly southern, cities," Buckhorn says. The area has an extremely colorful history, having been settled by Spanish, Italian, and Cuban immigrants at different points throughout history.
"You go to the coffee shops in west Tampa, and drink espresso, and everyone there will solve all the world's problems in the span of about 15 minutes — in three different languages." The diversity and passion of Tampa's 335,000 residents set the city apart from others. "Politics runs through our veins. We enjoy it, we play it, sometimes it's a contact sport, but we are fully engaged and we are all in."
The mayor is a registered Democrat, but says that he's writing off all political allegiances for the entirety of the convention. "For the next 39 days, I'm agnostic," Buckhorn says. He thinks of the convention, which he says will be one of the most-watched events in the world this year, more as an opportunity for economic development than as a time for partisan competition. "I'm a Democrat, but I'm a great host, and I intend to be the best host that the RNC has ever had."
Indeed, Buckhorn says that he would actually choose to host the Republicans over the Democrats. The ranks of GOP attendees are filled with businessmen, and the mayor is looking forward to making the pitch to the "CEO's and titans of industry" that his city is a great place to invest.
In terms of protesters, the mayor says that demonstrators will be accommodated, and will work to protect their rights to assemble while maintaining order. A group recently secured a permit for a rally that authorizes the presence of thousands of people. "We have done everything that we possibly could to make sure that [protestors] are within sound and distance of the event that they are protesting," Buckhorn says.