Why did Democrats wait to op­pose the RNC?

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY STEVE HAR­RI­SON AND JIM MORRILL shar­ri­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com jmor­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

Weeks af­ter be­ing sworn in as a new Char­lotte City Coun­cil mem­ber in early De­cem­ber, Demo­crat Justin Har­low re­ceived a phone call from Demo­cratic Mayor Vi Lyles.

Her ques­tion: What do you think about host­ing the 2020 Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion?

“I was like, ‘OK, that sounds like a de­cent op­por­tu­nity,’ ” Har­low said.

Har­low said last week he didn’t think much about the idea of bid­ding, be­liev­ing there would be time later to de­bate the mer­its of host­ing.

Mayor Vi Lyles has sched­uled a spe­cial meet­ing at 2 p.m. Mon­day to de­bate and vote on host­ing the con­ven­tion. As of 4 p.m. Fri­day, 126 peo­ple had signed up to speak on host­ing the GOP.

Har­low re­cently said he will vote no on bring­ing the con­ven­tion to Char­lotte — an an­nounce­ment that further fu­eled an in­tense de­bate about host­ing the RNC.

He said he and other coun­cil mem­bers should have pressed for more in­for­ma­tion ear­lier, and should have con­sid­ered how lo­cal Democrats would re­act to bring­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to Char­lotte.

“We didn’t (fully vet) it the way we could have or should have,” Har­low said Thurs­day. “But we also didn’t get great brief­ings on it ei­ther.”

On Wed­nes­day night, Lyles spoke to the Demo­cratic Women of Meck­len­burg County, who ques­tioned her about her role in pur­su­ing the GOP con­ven­tion.

Dur­ing her speech, the mayor said host­ing the con­ven­tion would show the world that Char­lotte is in­clu­sive and wel­comes all po­lit­i­cal view­points.

But in speak­ing to skep­ti­cal ac­tivists, Lyles said later she

would not per­son­ally wel­come the GOP.

“There will be no wel­come ad­dress by the mayor,” Lyles said.

Hav­ing a host mayor snub a po­lit­i­cal con­ven­tion would be highly un­usual — and a sign of how host­ing the GOP has di­vided lo­cal Democrats. In at least the last 12 ma­jor po­lit­i­cal con­ven­tions to 1996, host may­ors have wel­comed del­e­gates from the con­ven­tion stage, even when they were of dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

Busi­ness lead­ers, a key part of the city’s bid, be­lieve it will help the city’s econ­omy and raise its pro­file. Trump sup­port­ers say they are ex­cited about the pres­i­dent com­ing to Char­lotte. Repub­li­cans also said Democrats should sup­port the bid, be­cause the GOP backed the city’s host­ing the Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion in 2012.

Democrats who ini­tially sup­ported the con­ven­tion or didn’t op­pose it now say the city needed to do more out­reach. Other Democrats are say­ing it’s too late to back out now.

Un­der­scor­ing the sen­si­tiv­ity of the is­sue, sev­eral busi­ness and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers in­volved in the ef­fort de­clined to com­ment pub­licly for a story.

Char­lot­tean Hugh McColl Jr., a Demo­crat and for­mer Bank of Amer­ica CEO, was not in­volved with the city’s bid. But he is still ac­tive in lo­cal pol­i­tics, sup­port­ing coun­cil mem­bers like Democrats Dim­ple Ajmera and Brax­ton Win­ston.

“If we have in­vited them and they have ac­cepted, then we should honor our in­vi­ta­tion,” McColl said.

A ma­jor­ity of coun­cil mem­bers — at least six peo­ple — are ex­pected to vote yes. But grow­ing op­po­si­tion has caused the city to at­tempt to mol­lify the GOP, in ac­cept­ing the con­ven­tion Mon­day be­fore win­ning it.

The only other city bid­ding is Las Ve­gas. The Las Ve­gas bid does not have the back­ing of the city or tourism of­fi­cials there.

The Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee is ex­pected to for­mally award the con­ven­tion at its sum­mer meet­ing in Austin, Texas, this week, ac­cord­ing to city of­fi­cials and state GOP lead­ers.

“All in­di­ca­tions are Char­lotte is the lead­ing can­di­date and peo­ple con­nected to the process be­lieve it is com­ing, but that is not fi­nal­ized,” a Repub­li­can of­fi­cial fa­mil­iar with the pro­ceed­ings told McClatchy. The of­fi­cial was not au­tho­rized to talk about the pri­vate dis­cus­sions on the record.

FEW EARLY CON­CERNS

Look­ing back, two things are clear about the city’s ef­forts to win the con­ven­tion.

One is that al­most all Democrats on City Coun­cil gave their tacit ap­proval for host­ing, at least ini­tially, Lyles and coun­cil mem­bers say. The sec­ond is that the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee con­vinced city and busi­ness lead­ers that com­pe­ti­tion was fierce, even when it ap­pears Char­lotte was the only city to present a se­ri­ous bid, ac­cord­ing to in­ter­views with nu­mer­ous of­fi­cials over the past four months.

Lo­cal lead­ers be­lieved they were one of a hand­ful of in­ter­ested cities, but no other city ex­pressed pub­lic in­ter­est in host­ing.

A Repub­li­can of­fi­cial in Ne­vada touted Las Ve­gas as a host city, but the city of Las Ve­gas is not part of the bid.

It ap­pears Char­lotte was com­pet­ing against it­self.

The Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee sent the city’s mayor’s of­fice a let­ter on Dec. 8, ask­ing Char­lotte to bid. The let- ter was ad­dressed to Jennifer Roberts, even though Lyles had been sworn in days ear­lier.

(Roberts re­cently said she op­poses bring­ing the RNC to the city.)

Soon af­ter that let­ter was sent, Char­lotte Re­gional Vis­i­tors Author­ity chief ex­ec­u­tive Tom Mur­ray asked Lyles whether the city should bid.

The mayor’s re­sponse: Ab­so­lutely.

Lyles then be­gan meet­ing with coun­cil mem­bers in­di­vid­u­ally. She asked them what they thought about host­ing. All ex­cept Demo­crat LaWana May­field said the city should pur­sue a bid, Lyles said.

“I said to City Coun­cil, ‘Is this some­thing we should do?’ ” Lyles told Democrats on Wed­nes­day. “One per­son said, ‘Nah I’m not into that.’ Ten peo­ple said, ‘Yes, let’s move for­ward.’ ”

Repub­li­can coun­cil mem­ber Ed Driggs was also a key player, act­ing as a li­ai­son be­tween the city and Repub­li­can U.S. Sen. Thom Til­lis and other Repub­li­cans.

“The op­por­tu­nity to say some­thing (among coun­cil) came and went,” Driggs said. “The email traf­fic (from res­i­dents) was small. It looked like we were mov­ing to­ward an easy de­ci­sion. We felt that on bal­ance this was worth it.”

Lyles said she then be­gan speak­ing with the city’s large cor­po­ra­tions about whether they would be will­ing to han­dle the ex­tra se­cu­rity and street clo­sures dur­ing the con­ven­tion.

“They all said yes,” Lyles said. “With that mandate, we be­gan to put to­gether a bid.”

Win­ston, the at-large coun­cil mem­ber, also said he didn’t ob­ject when he spoke with Lyles. He touched off sec­ond-guess­ing about the con­ven­tion with a video he made ear­lier this month that ques­tioned whether the city should “host a cel­e­bra­tion for a brand of pol­i­tics that has been highly di­vi­sive and some would say dan­ger­ous to our com­mu­nity.”

Driggs has asked why Win­ston didn’t ques­tion the bid much ear­lier. Win­ston told WFAE he was focused on the city bud­get dur­ing that pe­riod.

When the city an­nounced in Fe­bru­ary it was bid­ding, Ajmera said she would be “look­ing for­ward to show­ing our south­ern hos­pi­tal­ity.” Months ear­lier, Ajmera had blasted Trump vot­ers, say­ing they should have no place on City Coun­cil or in the mayor’s race.

Ajmera said on Fri­day she will vote against the con­ven­tion. She said she is wor­ried tax­pay­ers could be at risk.

Repub­li­can Tariq Bokhari said the pro­posed con­tracts for the con­ven­tion pro­tect tax­pay­ers, and that Ajmera is mis­taken. The city de­clined to re­lease the con­tracts Fri­day, say­ing they are not pub­lic records un­der state law.

Har­low said he was trou­bled by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sion to sep­a­rate fam­i­lies at the bor­der. That pol­icy in­flu­enced his de­ci­sion to re­ject the con­ven­tion, he said.

Repub­li­can po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant Larry Sha­heen said he be­lieves Democrats never thought they would win the con­ven­tion.

“I’m sure there were a lot of folks who said, ‘They aren’t com­ing here,’ ” Sha­heen said. “Then it was, ‘Oh my gosh, they might be com­ing.’ Then it was, ‘Oh they are com­ing here!’ ”

Sha­heen said he doesn’t think op­po­si­tion is wide­spread. But Demo­cratic Party ac­tivists are threat­en­ing the coun­cil mem­bers with pri­mary op­po­nents next year if they sup­port the RNC, he said.

“I dare City Coun­cil to turn this down,” he said. “Noth­ing would en­er­gize our can­di­dates and our vot­ers than hav­ing the Char­lotte City Coun­cil very rudely re­ject an op­por­tu­nity for $160 mil­lion eco­nomic im­pact.”

I SAID TO CITY COUN­CIL, ‘IS THIS SOME­THING WE SHOULD DO?’ ONE PER­SON SAID, ‘NAH I’M NOT INTO THAT.’ TEN PEO­PLE SAID, ‘YES, LET’S MOVE FOR­WARD.’

Mayor Vi Lyles

ONLY ONE OTHER BID

Early in the bid­ding process, there were signs that Char­lotte was alone.

The RNC ex­tended the Feb. 28 bid dead­line. There were no news sto­ries about other cities bid­ding, which is un­usual for po­lit­i­cal con­ven­tions.

But Char­lotte of­fi­cials, in speak­ing with the state and na­tional Repub­li­cans, were con­vinced the com- pe­ti­tion for the con­ven­tion was fierce. The of­fi­cials said the GOP told them sev­eral cities were bid-

PA­TRICK SE­MAN­SKY AP file

In this July 21, 2016, photo, Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump ad­dresses del­e­gates dur­ing the fi­nal day ses­sion of the Repub­li­can na­tional con­ven­tion in Cleve­land. A small group of Char­lotte of­fi­cials plans to at­tend the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee’s sum­mer meet­ing in Austin, Texas, this week, where they hope the RNC will name the city the site of the 2020 con­ven­tion. ding, in­clud­ing cities in hot cli­mates.That could have been a ref­er­ence to Las Ve­gas, which made a late bid that didn’t have the sup­port of the city or tourism of­fi­cials.It also could have been about San An­to­nio. A 2016 Trump cam­paign of­fi­cial with Texas ties mounted a pub­lic cam­paign for San An­to­nio to bid. The City Coun­cil there said no af­ter His­panic ac­tivists ob­jected to host­ing.Some coun­cil mem­bers be­lieve it’s too late to back down now.For­mer coun­cil mem­ber Patsy Kin­sey, a Demo­crat, said coun­cil mem­bers al­ways have the right to vote no, no mat­ter how many meet­ings they have had on an is­sue.“It’s not over un­til you vote,” Kin­sey said last week. “You can al­ways say no, any­time.”

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