2012 Republican National Convention
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TAMPA — A calm before the storm, both literal and figurative, held over downtown Tampa on Sunday as the Republican National Convention arrived like feeder bands in advance of a tropical storm.
Under clouds and the first spits of rain from Tropical Storm Isaac, a smattering of protesters mingled with delegates checking into high-rise hotels and media members checking out the venues for the week's events.
Even though the start of the convention has been pushed back to Tuesday, the streets of Tampa were convention-ready Sunday afternoon, with an area some call the "green zone" around the Tampa Bay Times Forum barricaded off and dozens of law enforcement officers keeping watch.
A crowd of more than 100 people occupied Gaslight Park listening to speakers rail against Mitt Romney and the Republican agenda.
The Rev. Charles McKenzie of Tampa delivered remarks with the rhetorical flourish of the Rev. Jesse Jackson. The state coordinator for Jackson's Rainbow/Push Coalition, McKenzie admits the style is no accident.
"You can't hang around him and not have it rub off on you," McKenzie said.
Tim Heberlein, political director for the Florida Consumer Action Network, which along with Service Employees International Union, organized the protest, said he's had the tough act of having to follow McKenzie on stage at previous events. This time, he said, "I went before him."
FCAN and SEIU dispatched small groups of protesters to march around the city blocks with signs demanding a raise in the minimum wage and imploring the "1 Percent" to pay their fair share in taxes.
Their marches intersected with one by a group of 10 Code Pink Activists dressed in the appropriate color and carrying signs decrying the Republicans "War on Women." Originally formed to protest the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, Code Pink views the Republican agenda as a fitting target now, said Josie Lenwell of Taos, N.M., who was with the group.
"An anti-war message is always apt," Lenwell said.
At Gaslight Park, Marshall Reese of Brooklyn, N.Y., watched over a melting ice sculpture he and another artist created. They carved the words "Middle Class" from a block of ice and placed in the Tampa heat to represent what they see as a disappearing segment of society.
"The last 30 years haven't been the best for the working middle class," Reese said.
A block away, at Bank of America Plaza, another group of a few dozen protested against the taxpayers' rescue of Wall Street, chanting, "We got sold out, banks got bailed out," as lines of police on bicycles looked on.
In St. Petersburg, Florida's delegates did what any good conventioneers would do — they partied.
A reception for delegates, guests and the media at Tropicana Field, the domed home of baseball's Tampa Bay Rays, was still on. Florida's delegates filed into buses to make the 30-mile trip from their convention hotel, the Innisbrook Golf Resort in Palm Harbor, to the stadium.
At the Tropicana Field event, a crowd anticipated to be 12,000-strong roamed theoutfield, listening to liveand recorded music emanating from two stages and helping themselves to multiple buffet tables and open bars.
Mingling with them were stilted performers from Busch Gardens and colorfully costumed characters from Tampa Bay's many krewes. Art Wood, chairman of the Republican Party in Hillsborough County said the trappings, such as Cuban sandwiches, grouper, Buccaneer cheerleaders and Florida floral arrangements were meant to give attendees a feel for the Sunshine State. "they're getting a little bit of an introduction to Tampa," he said.
Wood marveled at the size of the affair. "I have about a dozen friends here but I haven't run into them at all."
Not everyone was impressed with the extravagance.
Lavigne Kirkpatrick, a state committeewoman from Collier County said the event might send the wrong message. "I have a problem with the money being spent," she said.
"There is a concept republicans have all the money and it's not true.Sometimes when you have something like this it makes the wrong impression. I guess i come from a different mindset."
After making their way back, the Republican Party of Florida had scheduled another party, a kickoff reception, at an Innisbrook ballroom.