Private City Council conversations show RNC opponents supported convention for months
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By Steve Harrison, Originally published by The Charlotte Observer
For months, Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles pursued hosting the 2020 Republican National Convention with the backing of 10 of 11 City Council members.
In January, they backed bringing the GOP to Charlotte, and their support remained steadfast at least through late June, according to a review of two closed session meetings council members and Lyles held about the RNC. The final private meeting was June 25, days before a near-majority of council members began announcing publicly they opposed oppose it.
The council voted 6-5 in favor of hosting the RNC on July 16, and the Republican National Committee awarded Charlotte the convention on Friday.
During the July meeting, Democrats said they opposed hosting the convention for a number of reasons, including the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their parents at the border. One council member, Braxton Winston, said President Donald Trump was an “avatar of white supremacy.”
But in those two private meetings days earlier, there was little talk about politics or moral choices, except from Democratic council member LaWana Mayfield.
When Lyles had one-on-one conversations with council members in January, Mayfield was the only one against it, Lyles has said. During the closed session meetings in June, Mayfield continued to raise questions about whether the city should host the GOP, and whether negative publicity could backfire and hurt the city’s image.
In the closed session meetings, Mayfield asked about the impact of the convention on Charlotte’s minority-majority population.
“Have we taken into consideration the possible impact of boycotting?” Mayfield asked. “Have you looked at negative media coverage?”
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A member of the local host committee, Walter Price, told Mayfield during the meeting that there would be a “robust PR team to address that.”
During the two closed session meetings, Mayfield talked about the possible bad publicity from agreeing to host. In some ways, that has come true, as national publications have noted Charlotte was apparently the only city interested in hosting. (Las Vegas was the other finalist, but the city was not involved in its bid.)
Republican council member Ed Driggs, who supports the RNC, has criticized his colleagues for waiting until the final days to oppose the convention.
He said Mayfield’s comments during the closed sessions gave Democrats a clear road map to oppose the convention if they wanted — but no one immediately backed her up.
“She stated the opposition case quite well,” Driggs said in an interview Monday. “If there had been more people like her (on council) against this from the beginning, we wouldn’t have gone for it.”
In early July, Democrat Justin Harlow became the second council member to come out against the convention, after Mayfield.
During the June 11 closed session meeting, he did not speak about the RNC. A month later, during the public vote, Harlow compared some Trump supporters to the KKK.
He did not attend the June 25 closed session meeting.
During the closed session meetings, Winston questioned whether local workers would benefit from the RNC. He was worried about the GOP’s anti-union policies.
He said there would be a possibility that those “jobs are going to be filled by people not in Charlotte.”
On July 16, he voted against hosting the RNC, saying Trump is an avatar for white supremacy.
In the June 11 closed session meeting, Democrat Dimple Ajmera said she supported hosting..
“Even though I’m in support of this….I would like to be assured that we are doing the outreach to insure that we are addressing the anxiety in the community,” she said, according to the meeting minutes.
Ajmera voted against hosting the convention. She said she was worried taxpayers could be at risk.
Democrat Matt Newton was the fifth vote against hosting. During the closed session meetings, he spoke once, asking about how much sales tax revenue would come to the city.
Six council members voted in favor of the convention: Republicans Driggs and Tariq Bokharki; and Democrats Julie Eiselt, James Mitchell, Greg Phipps and Larken Egleston.
In January, seven cities attended in person or by phone an “Interested Cities Day” in Washington, D.C., with the GOP about hosting the convention: Charlotte, Las Vegas, St. Louis, Nashville, Dallas, Milwaukee and Phoenix, according to the RNC.
Charlotte was the only city in that group to bid, according to interviews with tourism officials at the other cities. The city of Las Vegas and local tourism officials there did not submit a proposal, though the Nevada Republican Party submitted a bid and said they could host in the city.
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