Campaign Crawlers

Tampa Exposes Itself

 Strip club correspondent Lloyd Grove -- the tiny beast that roared.

By 8.21.12

TAMPA -- One of the arguments local boosters used for wanting to turn Tampa inside out and upside down to host the Republican National Convention next week is all the great media "exposure" Tampa will get out of the event. The reasoning goes that TV viewers and visitors will see how comprehensively swell Tampa is and re-locate their businesses here.

Well, I guess it's clear enough that no corporate research department is aware yet that Florida has no personal income tax, that the cost of living here is lower than in California or New York, or that it doesn't snow here in the winter (except for one January day in 1977). But you have to wonder about that media exposure, which has begun already.

The Daily Beast, an excitable left newsletter, started the exposure parade Monday with an attack piece under the headline: "Tampa: Seedy Host of Republican Coming-Out Party." The subhead was equally as charming "A mobbed-up past, a surplus of strippers: Tampa's got it all."

Well, isn't that special? I could hear them hyperventilating at the Chamber from my home office. Sure enough, mobster Santo Trafficante, Jr. spent time in Tampa, as well as in Miami and Havana (before El Jefe Maximo took that island over). But he died in 1987. Tampa indeed has a couple of long-established strip joints on Dale Mabry Highway, well away from the convention site. But the city is hardly the "strip club capital of the United States," as the DB writer, one Lloyd Grove, claims. (On what authority he never says -- personal research?)

Grove sums up: "It's [Tampa] a counterintuitive locale for the buttoned-down Mormon and his wholesome Midwestern running mate to introduce themselves officially to the country -- a steamy swamp of a city with a rich history of sinners succumbing to so many temptations."

My, oh my! Can I hear an, "Amen"?! What Grove, who seems to have researched his summing up of Tampa between his mid-morning arrival at TIA and happy hour, isn't aware of is that the biggest demographic in Tampa and Hillsborough County today is re-located Midwesterners. I've described Tampa culturally as Peoria with palm trees. In addition to those strip joints, we have schools, churches, and scout troops. Paul Ryan will feel right at home here.

Grove is certainly right that Tampa is sweltering this time of year. Heat indexes in August (not to mention much of June, July, and September) are routinely in triple digits. It's NOT a dry heat. Chamber types who prattle on about Tampa's wonderful weather usually forget to add that they're talking about October through April. Summer in Central Florida is not for sissies.

In attempting to account for Grove's groin-shot, the only reasonable explanations I could come up with are that his ex-wives and their lawyers live in Tampa, or that on arrival here he spent too much time outside in the heat. If it's the latter, and he plans to be here through the 30th, he'd better pace himself.

Coverage of Tampa during the convention will not all be like this. But some will. We're entitled to wonder if local boosters will ever learn that media types will not just print their PR releases. Save for the sweltering summer heat, Tampa is a good place to live and do business. But this won't stop some jaded and over-heated scribblers from describing the place as a cross between Dog Patch and Gomorrah.

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.