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Charlotte City Council Votes In Support Of RNC Bid

The Charlotte City Council heard from more than 130 people discussing their support or opposition for the Republican National Convention in 2020.
Jasmin Herrera
The Charlotte City Council heard from more than 130 people discussing their support or opposition for the Republican National Convention in 2020.

The Charlotte City Council voted 6-5 in a show of support for the city’s bid for the 2020 Republican National Convention after a week of heated debate among council members over the merits of hosting the convention.

The vote came Monday evening after a lengthy public forum where city residents registered their support and opposition for the bid.

At-large City Council member Braxton Winston, a Democrat, voted against supporting the bid.

"I do want the city of Charlotte to host the Republican National Convention one day, but not in the summer of 2020," Winston said.

Winston joined council members Dimple Ajmera, Justin Harlow, LaWana Mayfield and Matt Newton opposing Charlotte's bid. Council members James Mitchell Jr., Gregory Phipps, Tariq Bokhari, Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt, Larken Egleston and Edmund Driggs all voted in favor of the bid. 

Protestors and Democratic Party-aligned groups gathered outside of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Government Center to voice their opposition.

Jonathan Peebles, head of the Young Democrats of Mecklenburg County, told the crowd, "we must say no to the RNC in CLT."

Democratic state Senator Malcolm Graham also spoke out against the bid, saying Charlotte "has come a long way" and is a city to be "proud of."

"We don't need this convention to justify our community," Graham said.

But Republican supporters of the bid also gathered outside the government center.

“We’re out here just showing support for the RNC to come out to Charlotte,” said Brian Talbert, who proudly waved a Republican Party flag.

There were 132 community leaders and residents on both sides of the issue who signed up to partake in the public comments portion of the meeting.

Chair of the Charlotte Clergy Coalition for Justice Rev. Amantha Barbee said the proposed economic gain of the convention isn’t worth the safety and integrity of minorities who feel threatened by the Trump Administration.

“My life is worth more than $50 million,” Barbee said. “We cannot risk people's lives for a dollar.”

Former city council member Kenny Smith threw his support behind the bid and urged the council to “put city before party.”

“A no vote does not hurt or impact the president,” Smith said. “It only hurts the city you represent.”

The Republican National Committee meets in Austin, Texas this week to pick a host city. Only Charlotte and Las Vegas are bidding, and Charlotte reportedly is the favorite. It's an idea that Mayor Vi Lyles has been promoting for months, both for its economic benefits and as a show of the city's openness to diversity.

But some Democratic council members and leaders of local Democratic groups said the city shouldn't host the big event. They pointed to what they say are divisive statements and policies by President Donald J. Trump and Republicans. Council member Justin Harlow, who voted no, said Trump’s presence in Charlotte would be inappropriate given his administration's policies.

"To have our city open our arms to that and have this man and his supporters be in our taxpayer-funded arena and convention center and championing that type of rhetoric, I think would be inappropriate," Harlow said.

One council member questioned the economic benefits touted of the convention.

Council member Dimple Ajmera announced Friday that after reviewing the contracts, she wouldn't support the bid.

"This is not a political stance, it's an economic one, because taxpayers will be on the hook for the potential liability, unknown risk and exposure," she told WFAE.

Other council members, including fellow Democrats, disputed her statement.

The city released summaries of the agreements Sunday night. One is between the city, the county, the Republican National Committee, the host committee and the CRVA. Among other things, it says the host committee will reimburse the city for any expenses not covered by a $50 million grant. The other is an agreement to let the convention use the Hornets arena.

Following the vote to authorize the contracts, Charlotte awaits the RNC’s decision, which will come later this week at the committee's summer meeting.

City officials say the contracts won't be made public until after the party announces its host city pick.

David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.
Jessa O’Connor was an assistant digital news editor and Sunday reporter for WFAE.