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National Politics

Buckhorn on the move during RNC

Kevin Wiatrowski The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 01:29 AM

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TAMPA -

Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who jokes that he wants to be Republicans' favorite Democrat, has set a stiff pace for the past two days, going from city operations to nation television interviews with hardly a moment's rest.

Fueled by coffee and a love for pressing the flesh, Buckhorn hasn't slowed down this week since his first interview at 5:45 a.m. Monday. He's running on four hours of sleep a night and missing his wife and young daughters.

"They're sound asleep by the time I'm gone and they're asleep when I get home," he said as he started his day Tuesday morning.

With Hurricane Isaac now in Louisiana, the mayor is bracing for the kind of troubles the storm suppressed as it passed Tampa: violent protests and snarled traffic.

"Today's when we're going to get tested," he said.

This is Tampa's time in the national spotlight, and Buckhorn is the city's public face. That means hitting the airwaves as often as possible, even as he manages the city through the largest and most public event in its history.

"He is focused like a laser on getting things done," said former Tampa congressman Jim Davis, Buckhorn's neighbor and fellow Democrat.

Buckhorn's Tuesday included running back and forth across the Secret Service's convention perimeter, towing along his entourage – bodyguard Rick Olewinski, spokeswoman Ali Glisson and special assistant Siobhan Harley.

He set a grueling pace.

8 a.m.: The daily briefing begins with a cup of coffee and the city's top brass. Department heads paint a picture of a city a holding up well against the twin strains of hosting tens of thousands of strangers and bracing for a tropical storm.

There have been a few hiccups. Among them: The Food and Drug Administration turned away food at one feeding station for police officers because it was too cool to meet health codes, said Fire Chief Tom Forward.

"We're very concerned with the food distribution and making sure the vendors are keeping standards," Forward said. Nobody wants hungry police on the beat.

8:30 a.m.: A spin through the city's Emergency Operations Center and RNC call center means a chance to cheer the troops and praise them for a job well done. The city's volunteer phone bank has fielded 157 calls since Monday, most about traffic and parking.

9:10 a.m.: On the 41st floor of the Regions Bank building, the Holland and Knight law firm is hosting a business roundtable. "I never thought when I took office that I'd be a weatherman," Buckhorn says, a reference to Monday's parade of Isaac-centered press coverage. It'll be his favorite ice-breaker today.

10:30 a.m. Buckhorn and Police Chief Jane Castor meet the press at the Tampa Convention Center for a quick accounting of recent events.

Commuters aren't using the upper decks of the Selmon Expressway as city officials had hoped, they say. Buckhorn reminds the reporters he'll be addressing the convention in a few hours, a Democrat in Republican territory.

"And if they use the trapdoor on me, be sure you document that," he says with a grin.

On the way out, someone hands Buckhorn a cup of coffee. How many has that been this morning? "Maybe six," he says.

11: 30 a.m.: Back through the security checkpoint, he makes a 30-minute appearance on C-Span's Washington Journal call-in show.

In the studio, he's alone, facing a camera with the convention zone behind him. He's talking to the unseen host in Washington. "This is Tampa's time to shine," he tells her, driving home the message he's spent more than a year repeating to anyone who will listen.

12:15 p.m.: At the Tampa Bay History Center, someone hands Buckhorn another cup of coffee. "Almost in double digits," he says.

12:30 p.m.: Buckhorn sits alone before a Fox News interview and reviews the remarks he'll make at the convention in a few hours. Much of it is familiar, stuff he says every day. But it never hurts to review. He won't be able to take his notes with him.

1 p.m.: Facing another camera, Buckhorn speaks to an unseen Fox anchor as rain obscures the view of Garrison Channel behind him. "Absolutely," he said. "This is the biggest thing we've ever done here, Lori. …That rising tide will float every boat."

2:38 p.m.: Buckhorn takes to the podium in the Forum to welcome the RNC to Tampa. He's got three minutes. He wants these people to come back to Tampa to invest and vacation. "We are leading Florida out of the recession," he says.

3:10 p.m.: At Radio Row in the convention center, Buckhorn assures nationally syndicated radio host Todd Schnitt that Tampa is ready to defend itself against violent protesters.

"Make no mistake. They are here. They will make their presence known," he says. "We expect they'll provoke a confrontation."

4 p.m.: Arturo Sarukhaan, the Mexican ambassador to the United States, meets Buckhorn at his office in City Hall. Sarukhaan and dozens of foreign dignitaries are attending the RNC. "For a country like mine, with a 3,000-mile border with the United States, the domestic politics of the U.S. are very important," Sarukhaan says.

4:35 p.m.: Buckhorn watches a video feed on his iPad. It's from a police helicopter hovering over the city. Across from City Hall, anarchists are confronting members of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, whose members hold placards denouncing homosexuality. Nothing seems to come of the confrontation.

4:42 p.m.: Buckhorn mingles with journalists and politicos at the CNN Grill, a restaurant created from whole cloth on the ground floor of a city parking garage within the convention zone. CNN staffers embrace him. His brother, Burke, is a photojournalist on the network's White House detail. On a TV, Hurricane Isaac is making landfall.

5:20 p.m.: Back at the Forum, Buckhorn makes the rounds of Tampa's local TV stations. Each station gets a few minutes before he heads to a 6 p.m. dinner party. As the roll call of states rings out from the floor, Buckhorn settles in next to WTSP News 10 anchor Reginald Roundtree.

"When I got elected, I never thought I'd be the weatherman," he says.


kwiatrowski@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7871 Twitter: kevinw_trib

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