Beltway Bubble in Tampa – RNC Convention Days 2 & 3 – Lesson on Politics

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Welcome to all of the new readers and people following this blog after the GOP Convention. I met a lot of really nice folks from other states and other countries, and I’ve been pleased that some of them have found their way to this site. I want to take some time to tell you what my last two days around the convention were like and share some photos, but I am also trying to paint a picture for another purpose, and that is to describe my perspective of politics, which was broadened this week.

I’ve never been naive about politics and its effect on government, but up until now my visits inside the Beltway have been brief, and I have scurried out as fast as I can. This time, the Beltway came to us here in Tampa, and I decided to immerse myself in it. But since I wasn’t a delegate, I didn’t have planning meetings and other official events to go to. Instead, I was hopping from special interest party, to media event, to book signing, back to special interest event, and stopped at some of my favorite Tampa hot spots along the way to mix and mingle.

The experience was complete with lots of interaction with some of the GOP’s top candidates and past leaders, but it made me realize what a bubble these people live in. I’ll save more for another post, but I think when you see the pace and influences of the people in this realm, the dysfunction of our government becomes more clear. I am confident that they have best intentions in mind, it’s just that a whole lot of other junk gets in the way…primarily in the green paper variety with our founders’ faces on them!

The photo at the top of this post has little to do with my observations above, other than the fact that it is of a panel I attended by a grassroots special interest group with a great purpose — to uplift women and the issues that matter to them. Many of these special interests, especially in my opinion the ones at this convention, have a good purpose. This National Defense and Security panel featured KT McFarland, a defense department advisor to Ronald Reagan that I greatly respect. I was really pleased to talk with her after the panel and get this photo. Her message that a strong energy and economic policy first, is the foundation of a strong security policy made a lot of sense. I also met Jennifer Carroll our fantastic Lt. Governor of Florida.

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After wandering around the Channelside area and realizing that I was one of six people that weren’t part of the MSBC crew broadcasting there, I decided to make a break for a real lunch spot, the newly reopened Floridan Hotel! This national historic landmark that my grandfather owned during World War II was at one time the tallest building in Florida. It had been shuttered since the late 80’s, and after many false starts by other developers, a local family purchased and renovated the hotel and opened it two weeks before the RNC.

I’ll do another full post on the Floridan soon, but I wanted to share a few photos so that you can see how beautiful it is. As I was hoping, it was reminiscent of the Georgian Terrace in Atlanta!

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I had a wonderful lunch in the dining room and was so pleased to have as my waiter one of the nephews of the Floridan’s owner who spoke with me at length about the renovation efforts and all of their hard work in decorating and preservation. The place was beautiful and the food was incredible. It was so important for the city to show it off, that NBC was assigned the hotel for its crew and commentators.

Sitting next to me in the quiet dining room was none other than Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, opinion writer for the Washington Post, and MSNBC contributor Eugene Robinson. We had a really nice chat, and although I hardly ever agree with anything that comes out of his mouth on TV or paper, he was such a gentleman. I look forward to sharing some of his observations of Tampa with you in future posts, he seemed very impressed.

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That experience made me realize that despite all of the political disagreements, these folks living in the world of politics are generally nice people who are real and actually have to eat food and go to sleep. (when, I don’t know) The thing is politicians, lobbyists, and the press, they all know each other and they are all truly in one business, and that is promoting themselves and their agenda. They enable each other and feed off of each other. Because there is a camera in their face all the time, they begin to believe they are experts on everything, and everyone they come in contact with shows them a level of appreciation that may be real or it may just be a show as well, but reinforces that idea in their head. The culture is so immersive I don’t see how many can avoid it. They just do their best to grow gills and swim.

Look at this event I went to with Rick Santorum. You can hardly see him because of the mass of press surrounding him asking him and his family questions along with adoring fans trying to touch him. Even the most honorable man has to be affected a little by this…I would think.

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Even I had to get in on the action and stop Gretchen Carlson for a photo. After all, we have the same last name. I told her this and she dryly responded, well good you’ll be able to remember mine. She was so gracious. The fact is, who doesn’t remember her name? Everywhere she went she was barraged by people wanting to take photos with her. It is amazing how clearly these people can focus once they are in front of the camera. I wonder if they feel like they live in two worlds, one in front of the camera and one behind it. Or if the two have just merged into one.

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Question: Is my portrayal accurate, and is this endless cycle of promotion at all healthy for getting our country back on track?

Woman Up! at the RNC

I wandered down to the convention early this afternoon to check out the scene. I was surprised to see that most of the areas being promoted to delegates to spend their leisure time were not crowded at all. (Apparently busses from delegate hotels by the beach were not making the trip over to the bridges to downtown because of the rain…good for Pinellas County I guess) Both Ybor City and Channelside were relatively quiet, so I took the opportunity to look around. I was on a mission to find the YG Network Woman Up! Pavilion as I’ll be attending some events there later on this week.

I passed the MSNBC stage, leaned to the right, and found myself at the Women’s Pavilion. It is open to the public and is truly one of the coolest places to chill out during the convention…even for guys! Designed solely for the convention it has big couches, a club-like atmosphere, and huge TV’s with Fox News on. Sure, you can hang out at Hooters or that Tapas place, but why wouldn’t you rather sip on a cosmopolitan at the bar, get your hair done, shop in the boutique, and watch Shepard Smith on the big screens! Okay, so you’d think a guy like me would be a little uncomfortable, but I was pleasantly surprised to find more men than women there!

The Pavilion has taken over almost the whole first floor of the Channelside complex along Channelside Drive, right across the sidewalk from the Florida Aquarium. Named in honor of Dr. Miriam Adelson, the Pavilion will play host this week to a variety of events featuring prominent women including to name a few a Foreign Policy Panel featuring KT McFarland, a panel on Women-owned businesses, and a book signing by Callista Gingrich. Here is a full schedule! I met Barbara, one of the coordinators of the Pavilion, and I have to applaud her team and the organizers for such a fun venue at the RNC!

Loosen Your Belt – Dine Tampa Bay Coming Up in August

Oystercatchers Key Lime Pie courtesy of: Dine Tampa Bay’s – Tampa Bay Taste Bud Blog

Do you ever get intimidated by the daunting task of trying new restaurants around your town, knowing where to start in finding them, and most importantly what to order when you get there so you get a true taste what the chef is most proud of?

The Basics: Dine Tampa Bay is a two week event from August 3rd-17th that allows you the opportunity to visit over 100 of the bay area’s top award winning restaurants and enjoy a prix fixe, 3-course meal that includes some of their signature dishes.

Price: $25, $35, $45…you choose

It’s So Easy: The Dine Tampa Bay Website makes this adventure so much fun, and the over-organizer in you will definitely appreciate the user-friendly search criteria available. You can simply pick a price, choose a restaurant, and reserve your table…all online. Or you can even narrow things down by cuisine and neighborhood.

It’s easy to view the menus and a map for each restaurant. That will come in handy if you decide to sleep in your car and spend the two weeks trying every restaurant, needing to chart the most efficient course. That would be an admirable goal indeed!

Whether you enjoy one or all, let me know here or on Twitter where you went and what your thoughts are!

Here are Sample Listings from 3 of My Favorites:

The Melting Pot of Tampa

The Melting Pot of Tampa

13164 N Dale Mabry Hwy., Tampa, FL, 33618

(813) 962-6936 | Website  $25

I used to live on Melting Pot fondue when up in Ocala, but Tampa is where it all started! Includes a salad course, 3 choices of meat fondue, and your choice of chocolate fondue including my favorite the Flaming Turtle.  Menu

Cassis American Brasserie

Cassis American Brasserie

170 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg, Florida, 33701

727-827-2927 | Website  $35

Cassis American Brasserie serves up “Continental Comfort Cuisine” in a vibrant, friendly atmosphere. Chef, Jeremy Duclut, revisits American classics with an innovative twist, and flavors his cuisine with subtle elements from his traditional French training. Since I lived nearby the town in Provence that is the namesake for this restaurant, I had to include it. All of their food is simple yet unique…I’m looking forward to starting with the cantaloupe soup with crispy Prosciutto de Parma. Menu

Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers

2900 Bayport Dr., Tampa, FL, 33761

(813) 207-6815 | Website  $45

Oystercatchers is located on the shores of the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay and has one of the best brunches in town and is where we had our engagement party! For this package though, I would suggest the fresh catch blackened with one of their signature sauces like a fruit chutney, and don’t forget to finish it off with one of the best Key Lime pies in Tampa. Menu

Question: Which Dine Tampa restaurants would you like to try?

Follow tampatlanta on Twitter

For the latest commentary on business, culture, food, travel, and great deals in Tampa, Atlanta, and anywhere in between, as well as some of my own personal banter, please follow me on Twitter.

Question: How do you utilize Twitter to update your blog readers?

Get Rid of Gridlock? Part 2 – Case Study Tampa

courtesy of Beltline.org

On July 31st, Atlantans will vote on the Atlanta Beltline and Transportation Referendum mentioned in Part 1 of my post Get Rid of Gridlock. We struck down a similar measure in Tampa/Hillsborough County over a year ago. There are many who criticize Tampa residents for not being forward thinking and not caring about mass-transit. I’m not one of those, I think everyone in Florida realizes how useful a regional transit system would be, they just want it to make common sense first and be done right. Here are four reasons in my opinion why the pitch for a tax might work in Atlanta and didn’t work for Tampa:

1) The BeltLine is truly visionary, they have done a great job with videos, renderings, and maps communicating what the BeltLine will be. Progress is already being made. They are turning vacant land into parks along the BeltLine so people can begin to imagine the possibilities. Runners are already having races along the BeltLine. The project is also very innovative, and a fascinating reuse of existing infrastructure that yearns for revitalization.

2) As mentioned above, Atlanta has been able to collaborate across 10 counties to come up with a plan and a referendum. The Tampa Bay Area has not been able to do that, with authorities in every county butting heads against each other and regional authorities that couldn’t get consensus from the counties. On Hillsborough County alone there were at least 4 groups involved in the lobbying for the tax and they did a pathetic job of creating one coherent vision with one common set of renderings/maps. And that was just Hillsborough County.

3) Atlanta already has the experience of MARTA and its citizens rally around mass-transit in theory especially due to Atlanta traffic. Atlanta sees the future and wants to grasp it. It is part of the culture. There seems to be less of a concern for frivolous spending in Atlanta and more of a sense of trust in local government and public/private partnerships. Recently, local media and government cracked down on the spending/accounting of the BeltLine team before anything egregious happened. All parties are working together on transparency, and that will be critical.

4) None of the plans for light rail in Tampa Bay made any sense financially, although no public transportation plans ever really do in terms of dollars and cents. The value of course are in the long term intangible benefits for future development and economic growth that can only be estimated, and in my opinion this was not done effectively by the agencies involved in Hillsborough County.

I think Tampa has a lot to learn from cities like Atlanta about collaboration, innovation, and planning. In this case though, I think the team in Atlanta could learn some good lessons from what did not work here in Tampa.

Question: What else is holding Tampa back?

Get Rid of Gridlock? Part 1

Atlanta Beltline – courtesy of BeltLine.org

Sound familiar Tampa? In just 11 days, Atlanta will be voting on a public transportation referendum that proposes a regional 1% sales tax across 10 counties. This sounds similar to the recent Hillsborough county tax referendum that we voted down last year…or does it?

The Atlanta BeltLine is the 1999 brainchild of Georgia Institute of Technology graduate student Ryan Gravel from his master’s thesis, a plan for a 22-mile loop that would connect 45 historic Atlanta neighborhoods, promoting in each greater access to mass transit, public parks and recreational trails. Much of the BeltLine makes use of abandoned track from previous local railroads. Ambitious in its scope, the BeltLine project hopes to grow the local economy by $20 billion dollars, create some 30,000 jobs, reclaim 1,100 acres of brownfields, and develop more than 5,000 affordable housing units for working families over the next 25 years. For more information, check out the BeltLine Tour or Maps of the Project.

Here is a video from the Referendum website from the BeltLine as well as a brochure from the Opposition so you can make an informed vote. According to the Beltline website, if the referendum passes, it would build roughly five miles of new transit on the east and west sides of Atlanta BeltLine and another five miles across midtown and downtown on city streets, connecting to MARTA rail in three locations. It would also connect transit to the existing West End Trail and run transit alongside the Eastside Trail, now under construction.

Question: What are your concerns about the Atlanta BeltLine Referendum?

A Wing Challenge You Could Die For

Back in high school we used to run out to Hooters during lunch time and order 50 wings, take them back to school, and then race to see who could eat the most before the bell for class rang. Here might be a Tampa food eating challenge that rivals that one for indigestion!

I love wings! I like them with just about any sauce. Grilled and Fried naked are my favorite…the more well done the better. Well not far from where I grew up and located on Bell Lake, is Rapscallions, a neighborhood restaurant and bar that features the Davy Jones Wings Challenge. For only $12.99 you get wings doused in their original Black Beard’s Revenge hot sauce, featured on the Travel Channel‘s Man vs. Food show. You even have to sign a waiver beforehand and have to be 18 or older. You eat the wings in 30 minutes or less and you can’t water it down with any other food or drinks. You then get to sit for 5 minutes and savor the pain before being awarded with your picture on their Wall of Fame. I’ll be honest, you don’t go here for the atmosphere just to make history and meet nice folks.

No chance I’ll ever be trying this, but it is nice to dream big! I still remember enjoying the original Buffalo wings at Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY near where my grandfather was born.

Rapscallions
4422 Land O’ Lakes Blvd
Land O’ Lakes, FL 34639
(813) 235-6511

Question: What is your favorite wing place? How do you like them?

Here is a video of a guy taking his best shot at Rapscallions:


Joy in Both Places

Joy in Both Places

Now I can listen to my favorite Christian music station in both Tampa and Atlanta. Check out their perfect combination of inspirational music, celebrity interviews, upbeat morning show with Dave, Bill, and Carmen, and evenings with JR. I highly suggest it! Don’t live in Tampa or Atlanta, listen online at http://www.thejoyfm.com

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Tampa may NOT be a haven for RNC parties!

All we heard in Tampa a year ago was how we needed to either get out of town early or make dinner reservations immediately for the week of Tampa’s Republican National Convention because the rowdy conventioners would attract a host of lobbyists and special interests that love throwing dinners and late night parties. This may still prove to be true, but a recent article by Politico throws some cold water on this idea. You can read the article here that explains that due to Mitt Romney’s bland persona, a poor economy, and a party looking to contrast its responsible image with that of current administration departments like the GSA, most of the lobbying groups will be resorting to professional lunches and other smaller gatherings.

Are you a restaurant or club owner? What are your bookings like for that week?

What’s your favorite pit-stop on I-75?

Ever since I started driving regularly between Tampa and Atlanta, or for that matter hopping a ride in my buddy Dave’s 1984 beamer aka “The Pimp Mobile,” my favorite pit-stop has been the RaceWay gas station at Exit 5 in Lake Park, GA. You’ve just crossed the state-line, you breathe easier at the lower rates in gas, and you are looking for a populated exit with lots of food options. The station used to be one of the largest in south Georgia…I think it was a RaceTrac not that long ago…and consistently has one of the lowest prices on gas in the state. The restrooms are absolutely nothing to write home about, but it is dependable. If you can tell me what is unique about the men’s room, I have a prize for you!

When I stop there with the family it still reminds me of weekend jaunts home to Tampa with my friends from Georgia Tech, and all of the times we had stopped to load up on fountain drinks, candy, and oh yeah Swisher Sweets. With a Chick-Fil-A next door, what more can you ask for? Even though it is no longer a RaceTrac and is nothing like its glory days, I still return just out of convenience, habit, and memories.

What is your favorite place to stop for gas on I-75?