- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The city of Tampa, Fla., has received fewer permit applications than expected from groups seeking to hold rallies, protest marches and other outside events during the Republican National Convention in August — extending a Monday deadline for organizations wishing to exercise their First Amendment rights.

The city has received about 20 requests to hold events at public parks and on city streets from about a dozen groups, including the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union, Planned Parenthood, local liberal activists, health-care reform groups and religious groups.

But several time slots are still available at many parks, and the city says it will still accept permit applications for more events on a first-come, first-served basis.

“We didn’t have the kind of response we thought we might,” Tampa City Attorney James H. Shimberg Jr. said. “We didn’t know exactly what to expect because we haven’t done this before.”

In anticipation of an avalanche of permit applications, the city had scheduled a lottery for this Friday to resolve conflicts in which different groups that applied to host events at the same time at the same park or parade route. But because so few groups applied, only two such conflicts exist, Mr. Shimberg said.

One possible reason the number of permit requests hasn’t been higher is because the city set an earlier deadline than in past conventions in order to give winning permit holders more time to prepare.

“I’m sure some groups may not be ready yet,” Mr. Shimberg said. “It’s been pretty smooth so far, but I think it’s far from over.”

Most of the parks are close, though not adjacent, to the downtown Tampa Bay Times Forum, where the convention will take place Aug. 27 to 30 and nominate Mitt Romney as the party’s presidential nominee.

The service employees union wants to hold a rally “for political expression highlighting the importance of creating good jobs” at either of two parks the day before the convention formally kicks off. The massive labor group also has submitted two other permit applications for rallies at parks the following day.

Planned Parenthood also has submitted three applications for rallies at separate parks on the same day.

The city has denied the AFL-CIO’s West Central Florida chapter its request for a parade from a city park to the convention site about 10 blocks away, saying it would “interrupt with safe and orderly movement” of traffic and pedestrians. It added that the proposed parade would put a strain on police resources.

The labor group has the option of participating in the city’s “official parade,” which hasn’t been finalized but the city promises will be within “sight and sound” of the Tampa Bay Times Forum. The group also is allowed to parade on any city sidewalk at any time without a permit as long as it obeys traffic and signal laws.

The labor group, which didn’t return requests for comment, has a week to appeal the denial.

A group called Fight Back Florida, which applied for a rally to protest the Republican agenda, also was denied a permit because the park it wanted already had been booked by convention organizers in 2010, Mr. Shimberg said. He said the city would try to find another park to accommodate them.

Other groups who have submitted applications include: the Florida Consumer Action Network, which applied for a march for voters rights; a religious group planning a public-prayer event at a large downtown park; and Coptic Christians Against Persecution, which wants to demonstrate outside the convention site to draw attention the “persecution of Christians in several parts of the world, with focus on the Middle East and Egypt.”

Mr. Shimberg said the city will work with late applicants.

“We anticipate we’ll continue to have [permit application] activity throughout the summer,” Mr. Shimberg said. “With available spots, we’ll still hope to accommodate people who didn’t make our deadline.”