Bus fiasco annoys Manatee delegates at GOP convention

skennedy@bradenton.comAugust 30, 2012 

PALM HARBOR -- Banished to what they've dubbed "political purgatory" 32 miles from the Republican National Convention, the Florida delegation is at the mercy of hired buses that are supposed to carry them to events.

But delegates say the bus system isn't working, and it's hampering their work at the convention.

"Essentially it was a stampede" to get on the buses at the Tampa Convention Center after the session concluded at about 11 p.m. Tuesday, Manatee delegate Kathleen King said Wednesday.

It took King almost three hours to get back to her hotel, the Innisbrook Resort & Spa, in Palm Harbor. It was 3 a.m. before she actually got to her room.

"Security is certainly understandable, but it didn't even seem they knew where to put the buses," she said.

Kyle Downey, press secretary for the 2012 Republican National Convention, said they were aware of the issue.

"We are working closely with our transportation management company to rectify the problem," Downey said late Wednesday.

Other bus difficulties at the convention that runs through Thursday include long waits at transfer points and many stops along the route at hotels where other delegates are staying.

"It was like a regular bus in a city, where you had 10 stops along the way, and unfortunately for us, the bus driver was given an incorrect direction for one of the hotels on our stop. That was where the loss came in and the extreme loss of time and convenience," King said.

After their long journey from downtown Tampa, some of the delegates staying at the Innisbrook resort had to board yet another shuttle to go from a central point at the resort to their rooms.

"I am secretary of the Republican Party of Florida, so a lot of people were saying, 'You better take care of this,'" said King, who is also chairman of the Republican Party of Manatee.

The host at Wednesday's "Fresh From Florida Victory Breakfast," Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, made pointed comments about deficiencies in the transportation system.

Manatee's delegates were hours late for the convention's 2 p.m. session Tuesday after the bus driver got lost, said nonvoting Manatee delegate Peggy Simone.

"He just kept going in circles for an hour," she said. "I can laugh about it right now, but last night, a lot of us weren't laughing."

The Florida delegation was assigned to stay so far away from the convention venue in downtown Tampa as a punishment for scheduling an early primary in violation of national Republican Party rules, officials have said.

The distance makes it especially important to have good transportation, delegates said.

Some delegates were planning to skip Wednesday night's session rather than face another skirmish with the buses, Simone said. But she said she intended to try once again and hope for the best.

"I'm going to take the bus to get downtown tonight, and take a cab back," she explained.

Manatee's alternate delegate, John Colon, gave up on the buses altogether, and is driving his car instead, he said Wednesday.

"You can't get in town for events," said Colon. "We need to participate. I'm using my car because it's more advantageous -- the bus is not at all convenient."

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031.

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