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Arkansans in Cleveland for GOP convention finding city 'incredible'

by Frank E. Lockwood | July 21, 2016 at 5:45 a.m.

CLEVELAND -- It wasn't a destination on their bucket lists, but Arkansans say they've been wowed by the city hosting this year's Republican National Convention.

Northern Ohio's great metropolis has debunked decades of put-downs, cliches and stereotypes. There isn't any Mistake By the Lake, GOP activists say.

"It's a fantastic city," said Susan Gessler, a delegate from Fayetteville. "The big buildings, the banking industry, the theater district. It's just incredible."

Another delegate, Barbara Deuschle of Hot Springs, said she's impressed with Cleveland's "magnificent art and ... the architecture, the churches, the traffic patterns. I was just really amazed."

Cleveland has been home to business titan John D. Rockefeller, poet Langston Hughes, Olympian Jesse Owens and The Price is Right host Drew Carey.

The seat of Cuyahoga County has culture, a coastline, world champion basketball players and a world-famous music museum.

The restaurant and bar scene is booming and the city has scenic vistas galore.

But it's the city's good old-fashioned Northern hospitality that has impressed Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin.

"From folks at the airport to people at the restaurants, folks in Cleveland have been incredibly welcoming," he said.

At the Marriott Hotel where the delegates are staying, the chef added biscuits and gravy to this week's menu and tinkered with the beverages.

"They normally don't have sweet tea, but they made some sweet tea just for the Southerners. ... They're going out of their way to accommodate us and it's really noticeable," Griffin said.

A dentist is offering a 5 percent "Republican National Convention" discount to visitors with emergency dental problems.

State Rep. Justin Boyd, an alternate delegate from Fort Smith, said he's been surprised by what he's discovered.

"I had no idea how much American history is here," he said.

The people have been friendly, whether it's at church on Sunday morning or on the streets that line downtown, he said.

"The community's aware we're here. They seem to be welcoming and they're nice," Boyd added.

Others also are pouring on the compliments.

"Cleveland is fabulous. ... Everything's fabulous," said Dorothy Crockett, a delegate from Osceola.

One state lawmaker offered praise for Cleveland. "It's an amazing city," said Rep. Doug House of North Little Rock.

But he criticized comments made by the police chief, Calvin Williams, about the challenges facing his department in the run-up to the convention.

"I've worked for leaders in the military from buck sergeant to four-star general and I've seen what good leaders do. They don't cry and whine and complain about their lack of resources, their lack of people, their lack of money. They go to work and they get the job done," he said.

Security has been tight throughout the week and there have been few reports of crime or chaos.

Adam Hollowell, an alternate delegate from Forrest City, said he didn't expect to be impressed by the convention town, but "it surprised me."

"I like the rivers and all the bridges, all the old churches ... and just the scenic beauty of Cleveland. I didn't think it was going to be this nice, but it really is."

Republican National Committeeman Jonathan Barnett of Siloam Springs was on the site selection committee that opted for Ohio.

Cleveland beat out three other finalists -- Dallas, Kansas City, Mo., and Denver -- and so far, Barnett's not having any regrets about his choice.

Asked why Cleveland topped the others, he rattled off a long list, citing "the enthusiasm of the people, their facilities, that it's in Ohio, it's a swing state, and their ability to raise money in Cleveland, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the theater district, all of the museums. The list just goes on and on."

With the convention in full swing, Barnett isn't showing any buyer's remorse.

"The city's doing a good job," he said. "We're very happy and very content."

A Section on 07/21/2016

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