Convention Outtakes: Cleveland-Philly Fodder

*Plaudits to Cleveland for keeping a lid on protest excess and for not turning its downtown into Checkpoint Charlie. But in itemizing what Tampa, the GOP Convention host in 2012, could learn from Cleveland, let’s keep context in mind.

Four years ago, Tampa’s biggest challenge was not so much the political left or self-styled anarchists, it was terrorism. It just wasn’t underscored. The GOP was the party of the president who had invaded Iraq and created jihadist pep rallies across the Middle East. Tampa was home to MacDill AFB, where the war in the Middle East was being fought from. How’s that for symbolism?

Plus downtown Tampa was uniquely vulnerable. It’s proximate to a bay and channels, which were prime, dirty-bomb targets. A nearby commuter airport further complicated logistics.

And Gov. Rick Scott wouldn’t help with a gun-free zone-exemption request around the arena.

Tampa may be “one and done” for political conventions in hurricane season. But that one, had something gone horribly wrong, would have forever defined Tampa. If memory serves, the sigh of relief from City Hall in July 2012 was palpable, understandable and earned after Tampa’s lock-down convention.

* Timing, we are often reminded, is everything. If this were John Kasich, Jon Huntsman, hell, Mitt Romney, this could be an underdog Hillary Clinton looking up from behind all that baggage.

* Debbie Wasserman Schultz is now, of course, the former DNC chair.

Sans hacked emails, her legacy would have been outspoken, if abrasive, Democratic congresswoman from South Florida, Clinton loyalist and pandering harlot to the Cuban pro-embargo crowd. Here’s hoping that pushing her on her sword and gavel as DNC chair helps enough with Bernie Sanders followers, who have seen their accusations of party favoritism toward Clinton validated.

* Speaking of the Sanders supporters, the media found more than its share of disaffected    followers who were not acknowledging the bigger-picture implications of not supporting Clinton. You just knew Rachel Maddow wanted to shout down: “Excuse me, but could you still do the common-sense, adult, pro-American right thing and back your party’s nominee and help ensure that the farcical Donald Trump doesn’t become an existential threat to us all? Is that too much to ask?”

* Speculation remains rife that the DNC hacking was done by Russians. The putative motive: help their preferred presidential candidate, Donald Trump, by sowing more discord among  Sanders’ supporters and tamping down the Clinton vote in November.

A suggested Democratic-campaign retort to slighted Sanders backers: “Hillary Clinton is our candidate, not Debbie Wasserman Schultz. And Donald Trump remains the beneficiary of any more email overreaction. Moreover, Vladimir Putin wants Trump to be president. Anybody have a problem with that endorsement? Hillary Clinton is running for president–not American Czar.”

* The Democratic Party rolled out its A-listers and they delivered to balance out Day One’s DNC chaos. Impassioned and energetic, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker made what amounted to a Democratic superstar-to-be debut. No surprise that observers were referencing the national debut of a certain Illinois senator at the 2004 Democratic convention in Boston for comparison.

Michelle Obama reminded everyone that she is a gifted speaker: Eloquent, classy and optimistic in her “I’m with her,” speech-for-the-ages presentation. It was a clinic on how to connect with an audience–the First Lady as Hillary Clinton closer. You know she could be a political candidate herself. Heads up once both daughters are on their own.

Elizabeth Warren was Elizabeth Warren. Snarky on Donald Trump and aggressive as an advocate for the non-wealthy and the progressive agenda. An effective “I’m with Hillary” mantra line from a Bernie believer was well received.

Bernie Sanders, preceded by a paean video, did what he could to fence mend. He had won 43 percent of the vote and had 45 percent of the pledged delegates, and his anti-establishment activists wanted red meat from the podium. He reminded them of their roll call roles, the “most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party” and their ongoing “revolution.” He also politely lectured that disagreements are part of the Democratic process–not a cause for pouting and polarization. In short: We lost the nomination, but we won the issues.

“Hillary Clinton will make an outstanding president,” underscored Sanders, “and I’m proud to stand with her tonight.”

* Best cut-to-the-chase line: Comedian Sarah Silverman, an early Sanders backer. “To the ‘Bernie or Bust’ people: You’re being ridiculous.”

* Yeah, the email leaks created some Democratic chaos, but the GOP convention–with the heavy-handed, personal touch of the master negotiator himself–was still an embarrassing amateur production.

* Conventional, as it were, wisdom has it that Ted Cruz likely committed political suicide with his prime-time, boo-inducing non-endorsement of Donald Trump. Maybe. But it’s hardly the longest of long shots for Cruz, the duplicitously slick, evangelical-appealing orator, to double down on his presidential chances in 2020.

All it would take would be a particularly poor showing by Trump–in a winnable election for any other GOP nominee–that wreaks havoc on down-ballot Republican candidates. The sort of electoral disaster that costs the GOP congressional control and results in an establishment call to return to a party that doesn’t rally brownshirts.

Cruz can make the post-Trump point that this is about principle. That should be safe and sacrosanct–not unlike freedom, patriotism and all things Godly. He accurately called Trump a “pathological liar.” You don’t take that back unless you are pathologically unprincipled. Trump insulted his wife. You don’t let that one ride if you’re a real man. You sure in hell don’t endorse.

And Cruz, of course, is still counting on a gullible Republican Party, especially the primary chorus, to misread his evangelical hypocrisy.

* Maybe Pam Bondi’s Republican Convention speech wasn’t the big deal many Florida Republicans made it out to be. Were that really the case, she probably would have had her roots done for the occasion.

* The more you see Ben Carson, the more you think: He was a brain surgeon? Seriously?

Media Matters

* Regardless of his well-documented flaws and faux pas, I’ll take Brian Williams for convention–or breaking news–anchoring. He that’s professional, that smooth. One suggestion to MSNBC: Don’t let Rachel Maddow, who’s really perceptive, smart and often annoying in delivery, in the same frame with Williams. She simply stares at him, as if awaiting a resume update.

* When it comes to movie sequels that aren’t “The Godfather Part II,” we pretty much know what we’re going to get: exploitative, action-packed, up-dated variations being marketed to pop-culture audiences. I just saw pre-“Infiltrator” trailers that featured “The Magnificent Seven” and “Ben Hur.” No thanks. But, yes, “The Infiltrator” is worth checking out, especially if you’ve lived around here for a while.

Now I see where there’s a “Blair Witch Project” sequel hitting the big screen in September. Honest. More hand-held-camera and amateur-looking-“found footage” gimmicks for those who missed the low-budget, highly-successful original in 1999.

*  Call it Smartphones and dumb people. We’ve been seeing Pokemon Go players become a nuisance or worse in a number of public venues. Last week somebody was Tasered and cuffed by a TPD officer for after-hours trespassing and resisting arrest. Cops, unfortunately, already have a world increasingly fraught with “new normal” societal threats. Goofball gamers need to get a life.

Sports Shorts

* The IOC decision to not totally kick Russia out of the Rio Olympics has disappointed and surprised a lot of observers. What shouldn’t surprise anyone, however, is that Russia has been exposed for a top-to-bottom doping program involving the Russian government.

Call it an extension of President Vladimir Putin’s “Make Russia Great Again” agenda. In-your-face, anti-West, anti-NATO nationalism motivate Putin. Corruption and authoritarianism have been the thematic pillars of his three-term presidency. Putin spared no cost in securing the Sochi Winter Olympics of 2014. After obscene budget overruns, environmental indifference and bribery on steroids, Sochi is now referred to as “Putingrad” by many Russians.

* Speaking of the Olympics, we’ve been seeing references of late to the “Black Power”-salute of some American athletes at the 1968 Mexico City Games. We’ve all seen the iconic photo that shows 200-meter gold medalist Tommie Smith and bronze medalist John Carlos with upraised, gloved fists on the medal stand. A notable postscript, nearly a half-century later, remains: Are Smith and Carlos, who used that forum to protest racial inequities in America, due an apology for having been expelled by the U.S. Olympic Committee?

I say any apology should also include Peter Norman, the Australian silver medal winner who beat John Carlos. His moment of glory–for himself and country–was forever marred by the cascade of boos aimed at Smith and Carlos that largely drowned out both national anthems.

* Admittedly, I’m no fan of David “Big Papi” Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox. He has Hall of Fame numbers, but they’re offset by off-putting, showboat antics. Non Bosox fans get it.

But, you know, let’s do give it up for Big Papi for retiring at the top of his game. He announced it at the beginning of the season.

Few uber prominent athletes–think Muhammad Ali, Willie Mays or Hank Aaron–can leave center stage and a few more big pay days with their reputations unsullied. It takes a major measure of class to walk away while you still have game. David Ortiz is going to do that.

Unless, of course, he changes his mind after a career-year “finale.” I wouldn’t put it past him.


* “By the way, a Mexico that has a healthy economy, a Mexico that can help us build stability and security in Central America, that’s going to do a lot more to solve any migration crisis or drug trafficking problem than a wall.”–President Barack Obama.

* “(The International Olympic Committee) failed to confront forcefully the findings of evidence of state-sponsored doping in Russia corrupting the Russian sports system. … (it is) a sad day for clean sport.”–Joseph de Pencier, chief executive of the Institute for National Anti-Doping Organizations.

* “I confess, it’s true I can be a little wonky. But I have this old-fashioned idea: If you’re running for president, you should say what you want to do and how you will get it done.”–Hillary Clinton.

* “Do you want a ‘you’re fired’ president or a ‘you’re hired’ president?”–Tim Kaine.

* “Just remember, love trumps hate.”–Hillary Clinton.

* “Don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country isn’t great. That somehow we need to make it great again. Because this right now is the greatest country on earth.”–Michelle Obama.

* “Everything Donald Trump and Mike Pence are not.”–Hillary Clinton referencing vice presidential nominee Sen. Tim Kaine.

* “Our job now is to see that platform implemented by a Democratic Senate, a Democratic House and a Hillary Clinton presidency–and I am going to do everything I can to make that happen. Hillary Clinton will make an outstanding president.”– Bernie Sanders.

* “Bernie has cauterized the wounds.”–Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

* “America’s for Trump. And so am I.”–Pam Bondi.

* “I haven’t had a partner in the White House for more than five and a half years. I’m looking forward to that with Trump.”–Rick Scott.

* “Vote your conscience.”–Ted Cruz.

* “This is less a party than a personality cult. Law and order is a strange theme for a candidate who radiates conflict and disorder.”–David Brooks, New York Times.

* “I’ve never heard of an American leader, or at least someone who wants to be an American leader, claiming that he’s all we need. That’s not a democracy, my friends. As I recall, we had a revolution to make sure we didn’t have someone who said, ‘I can fix it alone.'”–Hillary Clinton.

* “For the first time since at least 1952 … Democrats probably will win a majority of voters with college degrees–a large and growing group.”–George Will, Washington Post.

* “I have the means, I have the mouth and the common sense to know when I’m getting screwed.”–Joe Redner’s rationale for why he is running for the new District 18 state Senate seat.

* “We are excited to establish our newest office in Tampa, a growing market for information technology that offers us the skilled workforce, business climate and quality of life we sought for our East Coast presence.”–Sanjay Bhasin, global head of human resources for Sagitec Solutions, which is expanding its software presence into the Tampa Bay market.

* “The city of Tampa is structurally and fiscally sound.”–Mayor Bob Buckhorn, in proposing a $905.0 million 2017 budget that does not dip into city reserves.

* “We created a fan base that made hockey a lot of fun to play there. If you talk to players around the league, everybody would love to play in Tampa now.”–Recently retired former Lightning player Brad Richards.

No Longer A Conventional Experience

Next week the Democrats convene in Philadelphia to formally coronate Hillary Clinton as the party’s presidential nominee. The big question: Will it look more like a progressive love-in than a  compromised Bern unit? Optics, platform and less-than-nuanced speeches will be telling.

It takes me back to the last time Philadelphia, which has hosted a dozen of these, was the venue for one. It was 2000 and the Republicans gathered to nominate George W. Bush.

That was then and this–isn’t even close.

For openers, I was covering it for a local Tampa newspaper that no longer exists. More importantly, it was pre-9/11, pre-Iraq invasion, pre-Obama polarization and divisiveness, pre-Clinton historics and private-server arrogance and pre-Trump ignominy and fright.

There were generic demonstrations downtown featuring signage about corporate greed. Demonstrators weren’t perceived as would-be terrorists or edgy racial activists–just idealists and wise guys.

The convention itself was held at the First Union (now Wachovia) Center, a 20-minute, chartered-bus ride from downtown. The press were housed and humbled in parking lot work tents. Yes, that really was Peter Jennings in the buffet line.

The delegates, a number of whom were wearing elephant-themed hats and happy-hour expressions, milled around, glad-handed each other and were mostly seated for the prime-time speeches of Laura Bush, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Elizabeth Dole and John McCain. Virtually nobody was seated, however, when the “Regular Joe” rock band performed–the one that featured Florida Congressman Joe Scarborough. Yes, “Morning Joe” Scarborough.

As a Philadelphia native–Kensington and Mayfair, not the suburbs–it was also about going home. Downtown looked so different since the city uncoupled itself from the economically-dumb tradition of not allowing construction above the height of the statue of William Penn atop City Hall. It also meant meeting up with my Republican brother, Mike, who would bust it up from the Jersey Shore for a one-day, mini reunion.

It was more than a reunion. I had an extra press credential–from the Danville (Pa.) News. A buddy was the editor, and I had done some opinion pieces for him over the years. It came with a photo. My brother and I looked nothing alike.

No matter. It was pre-9/11 and security personnel took a less-than-cursory look at someone who looked like the respectable, corporate CPA-sort that he was. He even scored press souvenirs that day.

He also met a Bush.

We were hanging around the Florida delegation when a smiling, long-striding non-Floridian headed our way with an outstretched hand. “Hi, I’m Neal Bush,” he said. “George’s brother.” We all laughed, and I responded, “Hi, I’m Joe O’Neill, Mike’s brother.” Then I formally introduced them.

Best I could do, but my brother had already checked off political convention from his bucket list. Plus, he would hear Powell speak and “Regular Joe” rock the Republican house.

Austin Insight

A final thought from the 2000 convention. It’s the memory of seeing Al Austin, taking it all in near an arena entrance. The finance chairman of the Republican Party of Florida and Tampa’s “Mr. GOP” was leaning against a wall, looking contemplative and probably thinking of, among other things, how he could win such an event for Tampa.

I mentioned the stagecraft, the goofy hats, the non-stop schmoozing and the celebrity scrutiny. This was equal parts pep rally and infomercial. What was the relevance for something that was pre-ordained–from nominees to platform planks?

“One of the biggest problems we have in this country is voter apathy,” said Austin. “An event like this is an opportunity to get people focused on the fact there’s a presidential election coming up. It’s a way for voters to get aware and interested–and introduced to candidates.”

The other benefit, added Austin, was what you’d expect from any convention–from electronics to pharmaceuticals. These are forums to reward, to share strategies and to energize the troops.

“It fires these folks up and generates a lot of enthusiasm for carrying the message,” underscored Austin. “If you’re a delegate, this is an honor. They feel like they’re part of something big.”

Austin died two years ago. His legacy includes West Shore visionary, MacDill AFB defender and key 2012 Tampa GOP convention recruiter. He was also, by today’s standards, a societal anomaly: a politically partisan gentleman. We’re reminded of that every day.

Media Matters

* Note that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg did, indeed, express regrets for her less-than-circumspect comments about the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump. As well she should have.

Also note that Ginsburg hasn’t apologized. Nor should she have.

* Can we declare a moratorium on polls? It’s only July. And this is no longer the Gallup generation. It’s faux news.

This is about news organizations and PR-hustling universities making their own snapshot news in an era when polling has never been more problematic.

Variables include land lines vs. cell as well as sampling issues–from the ever-escalating percentage of hang-ups to a protean definition of “likely” voter. Then there’s the matter of who’s actually asking the questions and what script they are reading from.

And the margin of error is, typically, about 3 percent. How self-servingly specific for something so increasingly imprecise.

* And, BTW, who the hell are these “undecided voters.” Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton? Donald Trump or anybody. But still needing time to mull this over?

Attorney Award

The recipient of the 2016 Hillsborough County Bar Association’s “Michael A. Fogarty In the Trenches” award is Tampa attorney Tom Scarritt. The award annually honors a civil trial attorney for professionalism and excellence.

This year’s honoree is the founder of the Scarritt Law Group, a firm that handles commercial, governmental and personal injury jury trials. In Scarritt’s case, it’s also a career achievement award for legal work and community service. He’s also a progressive activist–and one of the good guys.

Foreign Affairs

* Rule of thumb: If you’re planning a coup, be really, really sure of success. Everyone knows the consequences for failure. Turkey should be a teachable moment for coup plotters.

* Speaking of, Turkey’s NATO allies, including the U.S., condemned the coup attempt and urged all sides to support Turkey’s democratically elected government. Of course they did. They need Turkey–and its military heft and logistics–in the war against ISIS.

It doesn’t alter the reality, however, that nobody in the West had been particularly impressed with Turkey’s trending authoritarianism, its take on a sovereign “Kurdistan” and its less-than-enthusiastic embrace of secular society.

* Is there a more insidiously evil oxymoron than “honor killing“?


* “We will not give in to the terrorist threat. The times have changed, and France is going to have to live with terrorism.”–French Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

* “Executor of the deadly operation in Nice, France, was a soldier of the Islamic State.”–The Islamic State.

* “Erdogan is going to come out of this more paranoid and more authoritarian.”–Ilan Goldenberg, former Pentagon official and Middle East specialist for the Center for a New American Security, on the impact of Turkey’s failed coup on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

* “Following the (Brexit) referendum, we face a time of great national change. And I know because we’re Great Britain we will rise to the challenge.”–New British Prime Minister Theresa May.

* “I will miss the roar of the crowd. I will miss the barbs from the opposition.”–Recently resigned British Prime Minister David Cameron.

* “Part of what’s creating tensions between communities and police is the fact that police have a really difficult time in communities where they know guns are everywhere. I’m not going to stop talking about it.”–President Barack Obama.

* “Donald Trump’s campaign adds up to an ugly, dangerous message to America. A message that you should be afraid–afraid of people whose ethnicity is different, or whose religious faith is different, or who were born in a different country or hold different political beliefs.”–Hillary Clinton.

* “We know the battlegrounds are going to be close until the end. That’s why we need to keep working so hard. Trump is a serious danger, folks.”–Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon.

* “The campaign is not really about Hillary Clinton, or Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders, or any other candidate who sought the presidency. This campaign is about the needs of the American people and addressing the very serious crises that we face. “–Bernie Sanders.

* “It’s unprecedented. You have a Republican convention without former Republican nominees in attendance. I think that is an indication of the hard path that Trump has ahead.”–Miami-based Republican adviser and pollster Dario Moreno.

* “If Trump were a more disciplined, focused candidate, this could be his moment to win over Americans because the desire for a strong leader is great in moments of turbulence. But look at his record.”–Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.

* “We’ve been dying on the Republican side for this transformational figure like Obama at the 2004 convention. In some ways, Trump is that transformational character. If he had just used his powers for good, he’d be unstoppable. Instead, he uses his power for these divisive messages. … He knows who he’s appealing to.”–Ohio Republican Chairman Matt Borges.

* “Both these (Mexican wall, Muslim ban) pledges got Trump airborne and still sustain him. As long as non-college, blue-collar whites like the sound of those promises, Trump will keep repeating them.”–Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

* “Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is a campaign of violence: violence against individuals and groups, against memory and accountability, against historical analysis and fact.”–Excerpt from “Open Letter to the American People” from Historians Against Trump.

* “Our job is not to preach to a shrinking choir; it’s to win converts.”–House Speaker Paul Ryan.

* “We’re a 1 percent state. It will absolutely come down to the wire and we believe we’re going to outorganize and get those extra two or three points we need to win.”–Scott Arceneaux, executive director of the Florida Democratic Party and senior adviser to the Clinton campaign.

* “The sad reality of autonomous car technology is that the easy parts have yet to be proven safe, and the hard parts have yet to be proven possible. … No one has come even close to demonstrating a completely driverless car that could do the work of a Manhattan taxi driver on a rainy day.”–Lee Gomes, Wall Street Journal.

* “The traditional press sees itself as a counterweight to government, as the founders intended. Social media platforms aren’t having any of that.”–Margaret Sullivan, Washington Post.

* “Warning: Too much news consumption can cause depression, cynicism, anxiety and anger–especially if you’re turned in to Fox, the conspiracy channel.”–Former Republican Florida legislator Paula Dockery.

* “For years, blacks have been loyal to the Democratic Party and cast their votes based just on the ‘D’ next to a candidate’s name on the ballot. We need to command something in return. We need to make these politicians accountable.”–Robin Lockett, president of the Hillsborough County Democratic Black Caucus.

* “The senseless killing on the streets of America needs to stop, no matter who is pulling the trigger. It’s not about hashtags and catch slogans. Life is much more than a hashtag.”–Tampa Assistant Police Chief Brian Dugan.

* “This isn’t about justice for the next shooting. It’s about preventing it in the first place.”–Pam Keith, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, in addressing the Black Lives Matter protest march in Ybor City.

* “It’s insane to think there is some positive benefit to open carry.”–Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

* “We cannot hand the transportation challenge to the next generation or provide them with a halfhearted solution. A community that cannot move is a community that cannot grow.”–Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman.