10 years after Republican National Convention in Tampa, Castor remembers the anxiety

Some remember it as the convention where Clint Eastwood talked to an empty chair representing President Barack Obama. 

But most in the Bay Area remember 2012 as the year the Republican National Convention came to Tampa – where Mitt Romney was nominated by his party to challenge President Obama for the presidency. 

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor remembers anxiety and long hours. She was the city’s police chief in 2012. 

Castor and the Hillsborough County Sheriff at the time, David Gee, met many times during the week, reviewing plans in case violence broke out. 

"I don’t think either of us took a breath for a week," says Castor. "Because you just never knew if something was going to happen."

 Things had already happened elsewhere. 

Occupy Wall Street protests had turned violent and the Arab Spring was underway. 

With all eyes on Tampa, the strategy was to reach out to the protestors.

"We provided a safe platform on which anyone could express their viewpoint," says Castor. "We had two simple rules. One was no property damage and you couldn’t cause any physical harm to another." 

Castor reflected on the experience in a sit down interview Tuesday. She said the experience helped prepare her to become the mayor. She said keeping open communication with protestors helped avoid serious trouble.

Protestors were told they would be allowed to block some intersections to make their point, but not others. 

A Tampa Bay Times photograph showed John Bennett, one of the police department’s top ranking officers at the time, talking to protestors who had blocked Kennedy Boulevard at Tampa Street. 

"He was communicating with a group," says Castor. "He said let’s move to another location, and they did" 

Castor says Tampa was the first convention city where an independent, after action report was done. She says it will be valuable for future host cities and their law enforcement agencies. 

"They don’t have to start from scratch. They have a playbook," says Castor. 

Is Tampa ready for another national political convention?

"I would say that yes, our community is ready for anything here," says Castor. "Do I want it? No, I’ll take some more Super Bowls and Stanley Cup Championships." 

The mayor says a national convention is a lot of work that comes with a lot of risk in a politically contentious time.

In 2012 Downtown Tampa businesses suffered because steel barriers were put up to control crowds. Some believe bad weather also kept the number of protests down. Tropical Storm Isaac was threatening Florida at the time.