RNC staffers share their out-of-town impressions of the Twin Cities

Melissa Subbotin, Joanna Burgos, and Will Jamison
Joanna Burgos, Melissa Subbotin, and Will Jamison have worked on campaigns in many different cities. Now, they live in apartments in or near downtown St. Paul as they work for the Republican National Convention.
MPR Photo/Julie Siple

When Melissa Subbotin, Joanna Burgos, and Will Jamison show up at a downtown St. Paul restaurant holding their Blackberries, the place is deserted.

It's a far cry from what these 20-somethings would have encountered four years ago, preparing for the Republican convention in Manhattan.

Downtown St. Paul restaurant
RNC staffers can often be found at this downtown St. Paul restaurant, near the convention office.
MPR Photo/Julie Siple

Joanna Burgos says she was thrilled to hear this year's convention would be in St. Paul. But she concedes it's nothing like her Florida home.

"It's extremely different from Miami. There is probably not one thing I could find that's similar to Miami," said Burgos.

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About 100 staffers from all over the country are now living and working in St. Paul, and another 20 will arrive before Labor Day.

When Burgos, Subbotin, and Jamison describe the city, they use words like "cozy" and "adorable." Subbotin, 27, is from California. She remembers the first time she went running on Summit Ave.

"There were families out with their strollers, and people out on their porch. And I actually stopped as I was running, and I looked around. Everybody was so friendly and nice. You would see neighbors waving to each other. It was like you just sort of plopped down in the middle of Mayberry," Subbotin said.

St. Paul's Mears Park
St. Paul's Mears Park, in Lowertown, near the convention office.
MPR photo/Julie Siple

These staffers are accustomed to plopping down in new places, having worked on campaigns in many different cities. Now, they live in apartments in or near downtown St. Paul, within walking distance of the convention office.

Will Jamison, 29, knows St. Paul has a reputation for being sleepy, but he doesn't seem to mind.

"I live in this renovated old cigar factory here in Lowertown, and it's a Cass Gilbert building. Where else in America could you live in a place designed by the guy that built the Supreme Court in D.C.? I get a kick out of it," Jamison said.

In fact, their lives sound a bit like political summer camp. Some staffers live in the same buildings, even on the same floor. They eat together, watch TV, and brave the Minnesota weather.

"Everybody was so friendly and nice. You would see neighbors waving to each other. It was like you plopped down in the middle of Mayberry."

"The first weekend we were here, there was a tornado, it was raining," remembered Subbotin. "I'm like, where are we, is this Armageddon? I said, 'We have to get home right now, and everybody, we're meeting in one apartment, bring candles, this might be the end.'"

Of course, most of the time, they're working. The three staffers check their Blackberries in the middle of sentences, they text while they're talking, they answer emails at 3 a.m.

Subbotin and Burgos are spokeswomen for the convention; Jamison works with the 4,600 delegates and alternates coming to town.

They say they love it here. Of course, it is their job to sell the Twin Cities, to assure that 45,000 people have a good time while they're here.

Sometimes they sound like a tourism board. Jamison's favorite haunts include Triple Rock and the 331 Club, but he insists there is something for everyone.

"The Guthrie is incredible, the Walker Art Center is an incredible place, the Museum of Russian Art. Then you have the Mississippi River," Jamison said.

Construction at the Xcel Center for the RNC
Workers prepare the interior of the Xcel Center in downtown St. Paul for the Republican National Convention taking place in early September.
MPR photo/ Steve Mullis

And, yes, they have discovered a difference between the two cities.

"The first time we went to Minneapolis, we were driving down the street, remember?" said Burgos. "And we were like, 'This is a bustling metropolis over here.'"

Burgos admits the main reason they are here is to advance their careers. But while they're at it, these three staffers are embracing many aspects of Twin Cities culture.

"The St. Paul curling club was phenomenal," said Jamison. "I finally found a sport that could work."

"The Olympics!" added Subbotin. "I think we have a chance. We're actually planning on going down there and introducing ourselves. And asking if we're curling material."

"2012 here we come!" said Jamison.

Despite their affection for life in the Twin Cities, Burgos, Subbotin, and Jamison plan to pack their bags and move on after the Republican convention ends in September.