It has been noted more than once that when Tampa hosted the Republican National Convention in 2012, the GOP was partying in a town with a Democratic Mayor and seven Democratic City Council members.
So it might be puzzling to learn that Mayor Bob Buckhorn isn't nearly as enthusiastic about hosting the Democrats in 2016 as he was Republicans in 2012. But he says his lack of enthusiasm is grounded solely on the basis that he's not certain the city could come up with the funds necessary to host the 2016 event, because prior to the 2012 Democratic National Convention, the Democrats announced that they would not accept any corporate contributions to their big event.
"I think it would be much more difficult to be able to put together a competitive bid for the Democrats, largely because in 2012 they prohibited the city of Charlotte from taking corporate money," he said.
But there's just one problem with that line of thinking: The Democratic National Committee has not clarified if that will still be the policy in 2016.
Because of that limitation in 2012, the Charlotte DNC bid failed to raise the $36 million required to host their convention, and needed help from Duke Energy to make their goal. Tampa's Host Committee exceeded their goal of $55 million, and corporate contributions made up a big chunk of that.
On February 7, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz sent a letter to Buckhorn inquiring if Tampa would like to bid for the 2016 convention. The mayor said he received it right before his recent trip to Panama, and discussed the issue with Visit Tampa Bay head Santiago Corrada. The deadline to respond is this weekend.
"If [the no corporate contributions] requirement is still in place, I can't see a scenario where I would be willing to put the city at risk to host that, knowing full well that we couldn't raise the money without taking corporate money to host a great convention," Buckhorn said.
Just yesterday the mayor of Austin, Lee Leffingwell, said no thanks to putting the bid in, saying the city won't submit a bid because it lacks a venue large enough to hold the event and doesn't have the mass transit system required.
Tampa was blasted as creating an almost armed-camp environment when the RNC was in town the last week of August 2012, but Buckhorn says he wouldn’t do a thing differently. "Obviously there are those who differ," the mayor said in reference to the many critics who thought the whole "Event Zone" type restrictions put in place were way over the top. "I wouldn't change a thing."
When asked about the irony of a Democratic Mayor seeming to appear more enthusiastic to host an RNC vs. a DNC (particularly a Democratic Mayor who has admitted possible ambitions to a higher office), he admitted that "emotionally, my heart would be clearly on the stage at the Democratic National Convention. But the financial realist in me as a mayor recognizes that there are two very different things. And I'm not naive enough to think that we could pull this off without an awful lot of help that I'm not sure is there."
Tampa City Councilwoman Yolie Capin said it would be "fabulous" if Tampa were to host the 2016 DNC, and says she would have preferred for Mayor Buckhorn to know for certain about the funding structure before immediately dismissing the possibility. She also said she didn't understand that provision, considering that Democratic candidates certainly do accept corporate funding.
But an official with the Democratic National Committee who would only speak to CL on background said that DNC officials are looking at a variety of different scenarios about how they are planning the 2016 convention, and that nothing is set in stone yet.
If that's the case, perhaps the city is giving up without being fully aware of the possibilities that lay ahead.