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Is Tampa Ready For 2 Oncoming Storms?


This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Viviana Hurtado. Michel Martin is away. Coming up, South Africa is still mourning after 34 miners died in a scene that's being compared to the darkest days of apartheid. We talk to a prominent South African radio host later in the program.

First, we head to Tampa, Florida. Tampa's hosting the Republican National Convention, which officially starts next week. City officials say they're prepared, but there are some storm clouds brewing, both literally and metaphorically. Joining me now is Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. Mayor Buckhorn, thanks for joining us.

MAYOR BOB BUCKHORN: It's good to be with you, Viviana.

HURTADO: Mayor, you're hosting the Republican National Convention and you'll be officially welcoming the RNC when you speak on Monday. You're a Democrat, so you've got to tell us - are you going to be rolling out the blue - I mean the red - carpet?



BUCKHORN: And I hope they don't have a trap door for me up on the stage either. Actually, it's a great honor and I couldn't be prouder to represent my city and to give greetings to all the delegates and fellow Americans that have come from all over the country to be here. And so I'm excited about it and I know Tampa's excited to host them.

HURTADO: Mayor, on a serious note, how do you reconcile your party affiliation with being the host of the convention?

BUCKHORN: Well, I think what you'll find - and I'm not unique in this regard - that mayors tend to be far more pragmatic and practical than they do political. I mean, for me, and I've said this from day one, this is not a partisan event. This is an economic development opportunity for my city.

And so we have approached this from a very practical fashion. We've had a great working relationship with the Republican National Committee. We all understand what our goals are. And so for me for this period of time I'm agnostic, Viviana, and, you know, I just want this to be a good event. I want my city to do well.

I want to tell Tampa's story to the whole world and it doesn't matter to me if it's a libertarian or a vegetarian convention, I'm going to work just as hard to put on the best face.

HURTADO: And speaking of the money, your office is expecting tens of millions of dollars to be pumped into the city's economy. The unemployment rate, though, in Tampa has been hovering over nine percent. That's slightly higher than the national average. So how do you think this is going to help the economy in Tampa?

BUCKHORN: Well, I think in the short term you're going to see a significant infusion of capital. I mean, the numbers range anywhere from 150 to 200 million dollars that will be spent here as a result of delegate spending, spending on security related issues, hosting the events.

But I think over the long run, I think we will look back on this event and say this is where Tampa really came out to the world. I mean, this was when we were on the international stage like we've never been before and I think the residual impact is going to be pretty significant.

But I mean, I know because I deal with these companies all the time, that there are catering contracts that are out there, there are people that are being hired. There are clubs that are being rented and taxi cabs being procured, and buses. And so the economic impact is fairly significant.

It's a good thing for us, because you're right - Florida has been hit hard by the recession. Tampa's got a lower unemployment rate than the rest of the state, but we still have struggled because we've been so dependent on the real estate industry.

HURTADO: Mayor, another thing you talked about was the spending on security. There's a security perimeter around the convention center that bans handguns, but Mayor, you wanted to expand the security restrictions, banning firearms to other parts of the city during the convention, and that request was denied by Republican Governor Rick Scott. Why did you want it?

BUCKHORN: Well, it wasn't necessarily banning firearms throughout the city. It was asking the governor for a four-day exception to the rule that allows people with concealed carry permits to carry the permits within the event zone. To me, and I say this as a gun owner, as an avid defender of the Second Amendment, as somebody who up until recently had a concealed carry permit, I don't think guns in that potentially volatile mix makes good sense.

And so I petitioned the governor just for a four-day exemption. It wouldn't affect anybody's ability to carry arms necessarily. It didn't have any effect on the Second Amendment. He chose a different course. I regret that he did, but certainly he has been forewarned in the event that there is an incident involving a gun and a permit holder.

HURTADO: Given this context, what are you doing to keep people safe?

BUCKHORN: Well, we're going to proceed as we always have. You know, we've got 4,000 law enforcement personnel that will be deployed on the streets of Tampa. You know, we intend to run an effective operation. We're going to respect people's First Amendment rights, but if someone chooses to cross the line, we're going to deal with them judiciously and respectfully, but we're going to extract them from that environment.

Now, the introduction of guns into that hopefully will not be an issue. Our police officers, if they see a weapon, are going to react accordingly. They're not going to ask whether or not someone has a permit or not. And I think that's unfortunate. But it is what it is and we're just going to deal with it as best we can.

HURTADO: Some people are expecting thousands of protestors at the convention. What are you going to do with them? How are you going to deal with them?

BUCKHORN: Well, we're going to welcome them. We're going to respect their First Amendment rights. I don't have to agree with what they say but I certainly am going to protect their ability to say it. We think there will be a number of groups that will be here. The vast majority of them will be law abiding. They'll be good Americans who just have a different opinion from what is taking place inside the building.

I think that's great. That is democracy at the sidewalk level and we are going to get to experience it. There will be some, and we saw it in the Chicago at the NATO meetings, we've seen it at G8 and G20 and WTO meetings, we've seen it at other conventions, that are here solely to destroy things and disrupt this event. They are violent. They are organized. And we are prepared to deal with them.

We know their tactics. We know pretty much who they are. And if they choose to come here - and we've been very, very careful about making sure that everyone understands what the rules are - if they choose to engage in that type of behavior, Viviana, we're going to be happy to provide them with public housing in the local jail. And we're not kidding.

And you know, we'll do it judiciously and the level of aggression will be determined by them, not us, but we are not going to mess around and we are not going to allow them to attack our police officers or destroy private property.

HURTADO: And speaking of possible turbulence, I'm sure you're keeping your eye on Tropical Storm Isaac. What are your plans if it hits Tampa?

BUCKHORN: Well, one of the advantages to living in Florida is that we're prepared to deal with this. We live with this reality every storm season. And so we train all year round for these types of scenarios. We're hopeful that the storm takes a different course and heads east. It's still a couple days out but we are watching it and monitoring it.

Any decision that we would make would be done in conjunction with the Republican National Convention. We obviously would prefer to have a great event. That's what we're hoping for. That's what we're praying for. That's what we're planning for. And we'll deal with this storm the closer it gets and depending on what the track is.

Obviously, public safety trumps politics. But you know, we're fairly confident. We haven't been hit by a storm in 90 years. We're not expecting to be hit by this one and we're looking forward to a great convention. And Tampa's got its ruby red slippers on and its prom dress, and we're ready for the party.

HURTADO: What a sight. What a visual. If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Viviana Hurtado. We're talking about next week's Republican Convention with Tampa Mayor Bill Buckhorn. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Tampa Mayor BOB Buckhorn]

Mayor, Tampa hosted the Super Bowl in 2009. You've been quoted as calling the RNC the Super Bowl on steroids. So how does preparing for this event compare to preparing for the Super Bowl?

BUCKHORN: Viviana, it's not even close.

HURTADO: Not even close.

BUCKHORN: Not even close. We've done four Super Bowls. We can do them in our sleep. That is why we're on a regular rotation with the NFL, is because we do such a good job doing Super Bowls. But the magnitude of this event and the number of moving parts and the security concerns in a post-9/11 environment are much different than anything that we've ever done.

Both Charlotte and Tampa are mid-sized American cities hosting major international events. Other than the Olympics this year, this will be the most watched television event in the entire world. And so with that comes some challenges. Transportation is one of them. Security is another. The geography and land mass is another.

And so it is thousands of moving parts. It's a four-day event, not a one-day event. Not everyone is coming down here to have a good time like they do at the Super Bowl. But it's something that we look forward to, we wanted, we got it, and we're going to do the very best we possibly can.

HURTADO: Also getting a lot of attention are Tampa's strip clubs. There's been a lot of preparation and money spent on security, as you were saying, and sprucing up the city. Is it disappointing that strip clubs are getting so much attention?

BUCKHORN: Well, I mean it is what it is. Human nature sometimes leads people to make bad decisions and it's not something that we tout, it's not something that we talk about as a city.

Like every major metropolitan area, there are seedier sides of our community. They're going to do what they're going to do and the patrons that frequent them are probably going to continue to frequent them. But you know, we've got so many better things in this city to talk about that the adult use industry is not one of them and, you know, we hope for a day when it doesn't exist.

HURTADO: You've called this Tampa's coming-out party. What do you hope people will learn about your city? What's the takeaway?

BUCKHORN: Well, what I hope they'll know is what a great place this is to do business, first and foremost. I mean, the opportunity to tell Tampa's story to the entire world, in whatever platform it chooses to access the information, the opportunity to introduce Tampa to segments of the global community that have no idea that we exist. You know, if we come out of this where people, when they think of Florida, think not only of Orlando and Miami, but they think of Tampa as well, I think it will be a tremendous success.

We'll be exposed to worldwide viewership and, you know, you can't buy that. The tens of millions of mentions of Tampa over the next week and a half - we'll never get that opportunity again. And so I think, from an economic development perspective, we will look back on this day as the day that Tampa really, really turned a corner and took its place amongst great American cities.

HURTADO: Mayor Buckhorn, I need you to pick winners or losers in November. Is it going to be the man who's nominated to be the head of the Republican ticket or are you going with President Obama, who is at the top of your party?

BUCKHORN: Oh, I support President Obama. I do so happily. You know, I'm agnostic for this next, you know, 15 days, but when this is all over, I'm going to do my part for President Obama and I hope for the country. And, you know, Florida is the battleground. Tampa is the pivotal area in Florida. As Tampa goes, so goes Florida and, as Florida goes, so goes the nation.

And so we are in ground zero of American politics and it's going to be a battle. I think we all know that, but I think, you know, President Obama has led this country well in very, very difficult times. He didn't create the mess that he finds himself in and we are seeing light at the end of the tunnel, and I think he deserves some of the credit for it. But, for now, I'm all about the RNC and all about Tampa.

HURTADO: Bob Buckhorn is the mayor of Tampa. He joined us from Tampa. Mayor Buckhorn, thanks so much for joining us.

BUCKHORN: Oh, my pleasure. Great talking to you.


HURTADO: Just ahead, the fatal shooting of more than 30 minors in South Africa has left the country struggling with tough questions about its identity.

JOHN ROBBIE: For some reason, things that happen in other countries as a matter of course end up with violence in this country. And it's a major, major issue. There's a level of violence that creeps into South African society. There is something sinister about it.

HURTADO: More on the aftermath of the South African mine shooting. That's coming up on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Viviana Hurtado. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.