Wining and dining the GOP

Cities that lost out on hosting convention laid down their own red carpets

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While shopping for a host city for the Republican National Convention, nearly two dozen GOP officials were wined, dined, entertained and feted—at a total cost that can only be estimated—for 10 days in August 2002.

Cities seeking a convention bid don’t have to disclose how much they spend wooing party officials, but the total can run upwards of $100,000—even for those who fail to land the big event.

Here’s a rundown of some of the largesse showered on Republican officials by cities that sought but failed to land the 2004 Republican convention:

Big hospitality in the Big Easy

During the Republicans’ first site visit of the season, New Orleans officials stressed that, having hosted the 2002 Super Bowl and the 1988 Republican convention, they knew how to put on the big show. According to Louisiana Weekly, Police Chief Eddie Compass told organizers, “We are the only city in the country that has hosted two major post 9-11 events, Mardi Gras and the Super Bowl.”

Members of the Republican site selection committee were taken on a tour of the Superdome and a series of downtown hotels, and were fed a sampling of New Orleans’ varied and storied cuisine. Details of the trip included, according to The Times-Picayune:

  • Reception at the Foundation Room at the House of Blues, “a secluded club with unparalleled elegant space,” with the room featuring “centuries-old, Tibetan temple architecture,” according to its Web site. The party officials dined on jambalaya, asparagus with crab, and corn pie.
  • Dinner at the Commander’s Palace, in the Garden District, where the award-winning restaurant served committee members a Creole lamb dish and what the eatery’s Web site called “the Queen of Creole Desserts,” bread pudding soufflé.
  • Dinner at the legendary and ritzy 150-year-old French/Creole restaurant Antoine’s, where five U.S. presidents, two British princesses and dozens of celebrities have dined, according to its Web site.
  • Bus tour of the city to the New Orleans Museum of Art.
  • Tours of the Ritz-Carlton and Le Pavillon Hotel.

“The city of New Orleans knows how to throw a good party,” Ellen Williams, RNC site selection chairwoman, said. “It’s the epitome of Southern hospitality.”

Family affair in Florida

Home to President George W. Bush’s brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and, of course, the home of the hanging chad, Tampa-St. Petersburg made a hard sell. Among the features of its whirlwind tour, according to various Florida press accounts, were:

  • Meeting the Republican site selection team at the airport with pre-schoolers and pirates from Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla bearing roses, the St. Petersburg Times reported.
  • A private reception at the University Club on the 38th floor, with a view of the sunset and skyline with Tampa Mayor Dick Greco and U.S. Representative Adam Putnam.
  • Dinner at the landmark, upscale Spanish restaurant, the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, complete with a flamenco dance performance. Republicans were treated to gazpacho, the restaurant’s “signature 1905 salad prepared table-side, followed by Paella a la Valenciana and flan dessert,” according to The Tampa Tribune.
  • Three-hour bus tour of hotels in Tampa.
  • Lunch at the Ice Palace (freshly scrubbed after the previous night’s Tom Petty concert), featuring an elephant ice sculpture, and “elephant-shaped dark chocolate filled with white chocolate mousse and served atop a raspberry sauce,” reported The Tribune, followed by a tour of the Tampa Convention Center.
  • Outback Steakhouse-catered dinner at the University of Tampa’s Fletcher Lounge.
  • An evening of dancing on a StarShip cruise yacht followed by a fireworks display over Hillsborough Bay. A five-piece band and dessert buffet with Florida key lime pie were served.
  • A yacht cruise across Tampa Bay, docking at the elegant Renaissance Vinoy Resort in St. Petersburg.
  • A bus tour of St. Petersburg with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker and Governor Bush, ending at Tropicana Field, where Republicans played ball on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays’ home turf.
  • Brunch (with pink lemonade, lobster potato salad and chocolate mascarpone tower dessert) at the Don CeSar Beach Resort & Spa—also known as Florida’s Pink Palace—on the Gulf of Mexico, well known for its white beach and majestic sunsets on St. Pete Beach. Governor Bush was in attendance.

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