Welcome to Tampa!
It’s apparently quite a show of force in Tampa during this week’s Republican National Convention. Nothing can put a good scare into a city like the specter of a group of people holding different opinions.
Apparently, officials there point to Saint Paul in 2008 as the inspiration for this year’s buildup of force against would-be demonstrators (most stayed home), according to the Associated Press.
City officials maintain the massive show of force _ more than 3,000 officers _ is needed to ward off possibly violent protests, pointing to several clashes with police at the 2008 Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn.
Civil liberties advocates have worried about the amping up of security at political events, where dissenters are kept in so-called “protest zones,” fenced enclosures often far from the actual event. In Tampa, the protesters and city-sanctioned parade routes are blocks away from the RNC and the nearby media center. The installation of surveillance cameras on public streets (a few dozen are in place in Tampa) also give some free speech advocates pause.
Ron Krotoszynski, a professor of law at the University of Alabama, said that security at conventions has grown since 1988, when more than 300 anti-abortion protesters were arrested after blocking clinics during the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta that year. Since 9/11, “measures have become even more draconian,” he said. “Organized dissent has been banished from downtown areas.”
It’s like going back in time. The people in Saint Paul had the same concerns. Those security cameras? We got them too. They were supposed to be temporary. They’re still there.
And, also like 2008, Tampa is finding another truism: Political conventions are bad for businesses. Tampa, thanks to the hurricane and the authorities, is deserted.
Saint Paul could have provided a lesson about that to Tampa, too. But from the sound of things, the businesses bought the “it’ll be great for business” line.
Jeff Morzella had hoped the convention would double business, but on Monday, only 75 customers ate in his restaurant compared to 400 patrons on a typical day.
“This has been a ghost town,” Morzella said Tuesday morning, standing outside his restaurant named FRESH. Streets surrounding the block were barricaded. The biggest source of downtown traffic for the past few days has been police officers on bicycles, but they have been eating at meal stations catered by outsiders, not local restaurants, Morzella said.
FRESH generally garners up to $20,000 in weekly revenue but as of Tuesday had only taken in $800.
“More money out of pocket. No money coming in,” said Morzella, whose restaurant serves soups, salads and paninis. It’s on a row of restaurants just a few blocks from the Tampa Bay Times Forum where delegates are convening. “I would need to triple business between now and the end of the convention to make up for what I’ve lost already.”
“I’ve been on this street for 31 years and this is the worst I have ever seen,” said Marty Greenwald, who runs a hot dog business and appears to be losing his shirt.
A week or so from now, officials in the city will issue a press release trumping people’s lying eyes and proving that the convention made money for the region.
It’s like old times.