© 2021 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Council Vote Ends 2 Weeks Of Debate, Positions City For RNC

After a debate that Mayor Vi Lyles called one of the most difficult of her career, a divided Charlotte City Council voted 6 to 5 Monday to support the city's bid to host the 2020 Republican National Convention. The council's endorsement comes as the Republican National Committee prepares to meet in Austin, Texas this week to choose between Charlotte and Las Vegas.

The vote came after two weeks of intense public debate in Charlotte over whether hosting the convention is a good idea. The debate was led by several of the council's young Democrats - and they've been using some harsh words.

One of them is Justin Harlow, who said he doesn't want to endorse what he called President Donald Trump's divisive statements about minorities, women, immigrants and the disabled.  

“I’d no sooner bring Donald Trump and the RNC to Charlotte, to the home that I chose, and love, where my wife and I are raising our black son, any sooner than I would support a Klan rally in this city,” Harlow said before the vote.

Braxton Winston helped stir up the debate by asking if Charlotte should host an event for a president and a party who are out of sync with the city's stated values and priorities. But he didn't come right out and say how he'd vote - until Monday's discussion, when he said he’d vote no.  

“I have said many times over these past weeks that the crux of this decision rests on the effect of one man - Donald Trump. You see, I don't really see him as a Republican. I see him as a human avatar of white supremacy,” he said.

Harlow and Winston were joined in opposing the convention bid by fellow Democrats Lawana Mayfield, Dimple Ajmera and Matt Newton. But there were six yes votes: Democrats James Mitchell Jr., Greg Phipps, Julie Eiselt and Larken Egleston, and the council's two Republicans - Ed Driggs and Tariq Bokhari.

Bokhari argued that the contract with the Republican National Committee is a strong one that protects the city and taxpayers, and includes something no other convention city has gotten - an exit clause.

“On the city side, it's the best deal that's ever been crafted.  On the community side, the jobs, the business and the neighborhoods are going to get the influx of economic investment and the conversations to move our city forward,” Bokhari said.

Before the council debated and voted, more than 100 citizens spoke during a two-hour public hearing. And like the council, the crowd appeared about evenly divided between opponents and supporters.

One supporter is Mohammad Jenatian, president of the Charlotte Hospitality and Tourism Alliance. He says the RNC will bring economic benefits, just like those when Charlotte hosted the 2012 Democratic National Convention.   

“The DNC validated our city as a major convention destination, and we're still benefiting from those conventions,” he said. 

Other backers made political arguments, like restaurant owner J. Sam Daniels. Although he's a Republican, he says he was a big supporter of the Democratic convention in 2012.

“I did everything I could to make sure the DNC convention was here. I ask that you do the same for me and my party. I ask that you vote yes,” he said, drawing applause – from about half the audience.

Mayor Vi Lyles has pushed the city's bid, even as some in her own party questioned it. After the vote, she responded to some of her critics.

“I want you to know that hosting the RNC is not an endorsement of the administration, the current administration. I believe that hosting the Republican convention, the RNC, is about what opportunities we can make of it after this very, very difficult time of deliberation,” Lyles said.

Technically, the council vote was to authorize the city manager to finalize two contracts - one with the Republican National Commitee, the local host committee, Mecklenburg County, and Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.  The other was with an arena license agreement with the Charlotte Hornets, which controls use of Spectrum Arena. 

The RNC summer meeting runs Wednesday through Saturday in Austin.