RNC 2020 could give Char­lotte bet­ter ac­cess

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

Just two years ago, Char­lotte’s re­la­tion­ship with North Carolina’s Repub­li­can­con­trolled leg­is­la­ture hit rock bot­tom.

GOP lead­ers blamed the city and then-Mayor Jennifer Roberts for what they called the “rad­i­cal bath­room pol­icy” that prompted House Bill 2 and for the hun­dreds of job losses that fol­lowed. An al­ready-ten­u­ous re­la­tion­ship be­came down­right toxic.

But last month, cur­rent Demo­cratic Mayor Vi Lyles and her city council sup­port­ers got what one Re­pub­li­can called a “rock star wel­come” from GOP national com­mit­tee mem­bers in Austin, Texas. When they awarded the city their 2020 national con­ven­tion, party lead­ers in North Carolina and across the coun­try heaped praise on the city and its mayor.

“I love that it’s the Queen City and we have Mayor Vi Lyles – you are a queen,” GOP national Chair Ronna McDaniel said.

But will the good­will trans­late into tan­gi­ble benefits in Raleigh or Wash­ing­ton?

“Hope­fully the doors will open a lit­tle eas­ier when Char­lotte goes to those of­fices and asks for things that they need,” said Larry Sha­heen, a GOP con­sul­tant from Meck­len­burg.

For Lyles, the diplo­macy be­gan long be­fore the city landed the con­ven­tion. She met long ago with GOP leg­isla­tive lead­ers as well as Wash­ing­ton law­mak­ers, in­clud­ing U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Til­lis.

“I’ve been work­ing on those re­la­tion­ships from the day I’d been sworn in,” she said.

But the con­ven­tion ap­pears to have deep­ened the re­la­tion­ship. Til­lis praised Lyles and called the con­ven­tion a “great op­portu-

HOPE­FULLY THE DOORS WILL OPEN A LIT­TLE EAS­IER WHEN CHAR­LOTTE GOES TO (RALEIGH OR WASH­ING­TON) AND ASKS FOR THINGS THAT THEY NEED.

Larry Sha­heen, a GOP con­sul­tant from Meck­len­burg

nity for us to work across the aisles.”

Lyles cham­pi­oned the con­ven­tion de­spite lat­ede­vel­op­ing op­po­si­tion from a ma­jor­ity of city council Democrats.

Be­fore council mem­bers nar­rowly ap­proved it on a 6-5 vote, Lyles ar­gued for the con­ven­tion in an Ob­server op-ed. “We can show that our city is about in­clu­sion,” she wrote, “(and) demon­strate our val­ues of re­spect while hon­or­ing our dif­fer­ences.”

“It’s not so much the con­ven­tion, it’s more the at­ti­tude of the mayor her­self,” said state Rep. Mark Brody, a Union County Re­pub­li­can and mem­ber of the Re­pub­li­can National Com­mit­tee. “We’re glad that we could re­ally melt this par­ti­san ice for a while.”

BE­YOND AN OPEN DOOR

So what will the city get be­sides an open door?

Char­lotte tran­sit of­fi­cials re­cently out­lined a

$ 7 bil­lion plan that would ex­tend light rail through­out the county, a plan that would need fed­eral and state fund­ing.

The city also faces a se­vere short­age of af­ford­able hous­ing. Jobs, along with the fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives it of­ten takes to get them, are al­ways a pri­or­ity.

“I would hope we would see the abil­ity to move for­ward on those ar­eas of fo­cus,” Lyles said. “When you’re in that spotlight, you get to talk about both the things you do well as well as the chal­lenges you’re en­coun­ter­ing.”

Char­lotte has yet to de­velop an agenda for the leg­isla­tive ses­sion that starts in Jan­uary. The city also will try to pre­vent the of­ten un­fore­see­able things crit­ics say could hurt the city.

This year law­mak­ers re­duced main­te­nance funds for Char­lotte tran­sit by $3 mil­lion, or 26 per­cent.

In the past year they’ve re­drawn lo­cal vot­ing districts in cities such as Greens­boro and Asheville. Three years ago, Char­lotte and other cities fought ef­forts to trans­fer sales tax rev­enue from ur­ban to ru­ral ar­eas. And a bill last year would have cost Char­lotte mil­lions if it was found to be a de facto “sanc­tu­ary city” for un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants.

Then there’s the air­port. In 2013, law­mak­ers pushed to take Char­lotte Dou­glas In­ter­na­tional Air­port from the city’s con­trol and put it un­der first an au­thor­ity and fi­nally a com­mis­sion.

Though the is­sue landed in court, the city con­tin­ues to run the air­port. But some would like to re­solve that is­sue once and for all.

“Those con­ver­sa­tions are start­ing to per­co­late,” said GOP Sen. Jeff Tarte of Cor­nelius, adding that con­ver­sa­tions are go­ing on be­hind the scenes. “That’s what Vi’s done that’s very dif­fer­ent. You don’t just show up for (leg­isla­tive) Town Hall Day. ... We’re al­ready start­ing to see this col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fect of start­ing to work to­gether.”

Not ev­ery­body is con­vinced.

“I’m a lit­tle bit more of a skep­tic,” said Demo­crat Justin Har­low, a city council mem­ber who voted against the con­ven­tion. “I hope Char­lotte can get some­thing for this, and I will re­main cau­tiously op­ti­mistic. But his­tory has shown that the leg­is­la­ture has not been our friend.”

Host­ing the 2012 Demo­cratic con­ven­tion built good­will for the city, par­tic­u­larly with the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Demo­crat Barack Obama.

He even tapped thenMayor An­thony Foxx as U.S. trans­porta­tion sec­re­tary.

‘LOW­ER­ING THE TEM­PER­A­TURE’

It’s hard to over­state how much has changed from the an­tipa­thy over HB2.

Last year, leading GOP law­mak­ers con­trib­uted to the cam­paign of one of Roberts’ op­po­nents. And Rep. David Lewis, a GOP leader from Har­nett County, even con­sid­ered pulling an elec­tion bill when he was told it could help Roberts’ re-elec­tion. Lyles de­feated her and three other can­di­dates last Novem­ber.

“There was no good­will or no re­la­tion­ship what­so­ever with the Gen­eral Assem­bly and the mayor of Char­lotte,” said Lewis. “And that’s no longer the case. ... (Lyles’) voice is cer­tainly in­flu­en­tial in de­ci­sions that I make.”

But Re­pub­li­can Rep. Bill Braw­ley of Matthews said law­mak­ers still re­mem­ber com­ments from council Democrats who op­posed the GOP con­ven­tion.

“There are some mem­bers of council who prob­a­bly need to moder­ate their com­ments, oth­er­wise they’ll make it dif­fi­cult for Mayor Lyles to trans­late the leg­is­la­tors’ trust in her for trust in Char­lotte as a whole.”

To be sure, Char­lotte would still face re­sis­tance, con­ven­tion or no con­ven­tion.

Leg­isla­tive lead­ers, for ex­am­ple, have long been skep­ti­cal of some ur­ban rail projects. And some pro­pos­als could fall vic­tim to bud­get con­straints.

There’s also in­her­ent ten­sion be­tween the state’s largest ur­ban area and the Democrats who run it and a leg­is­la­ture con­trolled by Re­pub­li­cans from mostly ru­ral ar­eas. And few ex­pect law­mak­ers to sud­denly give Char­lotte ev­ery­thing it wants.

“The main thing is just low­er­ing the tem­per­a­ture of the rhetoric in terms of the ar­gu­ments be­tween Char­lotte and Raleigh,” said UNC Char­lotte po­lit­i­cal scientist Eric He­berlig. “If we can make them into con­struc­tive di­a­logue in­stead of pitched bat­tles, that alone is progress.”

CHUCK BUR­TON AP

Char­lotte Mayor Vi Lyles speaks to a packed cham­ber dur­ing a July pub­lic fo­rum be­fore the Char­lotte City Council voted to host the 2020 Re­pub­li­can National Con­ven­tion. Lyles cham­pi­oned the con­ven­tion de­spite op­po­si­tion from a ma­jor­ity of city council Democrats.

Jeff Tarte

Mark Brody

Bill Braw­ley

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