Because Of Contract, Charlotte City Council Couldn't Cancel RNC Over Virus Fears

Mar 11, 2020

The Charlotte City Council couldn't cancel the Republican National Convention because of the coronavirus, although Mecklenburg County and the state could shut down the event if they deem it a threat to the public health. 

City Council member Malcolm Graham, a Democrat, wasn't on Council when it voted 6-5 in 2018 to host the RNC. But he said he remembers the discussion about the city's contract with the Republican National Committee and the local host committee.

"I think the attorney told them very clearly that there was no 'out' for the city if they wanted to renege on this intention to host the conference," Graham said Wednesday. "Whether it was because they didn’t want to do it anymore, or for any other reason. And to my knowledge, that still stands."

The city's contract to host the convention gives it one "out": If the federal government doesn't provide Charlotte with an expected $50 million security grant, City Council can pull out of the deal.

So Council members could believe it's unsafe to have 50,000 visitors from across the world come to the city, but that wouldn't be enough reason to decline to host.

Some contracts have what's known as a "force majeure" provision, which allows one party to not fulfill its obligations in the face of an unexpected event -- usually a natural disaster. The city's RNC contract doesn't have that provision.

Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden on Tuesday canceled planned campaign events in Ohio because of the coronavirus.

But President Trump has downplayed the severity of the virus. The White House has said people should not panic over the outbreak.

On the same day that Sanders and Biden canceled their Ohio events, the Trump campaign announced a March 19 event in Milwaukee called "Catholics for Trump" in a large exhibition hall.

There are currently no coronavirus cases in Mecklenburg County, although health officials are bracing for that to change quickly.

Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency Tuesday, and that allows the state to get federal funds and to prohibit price gouging. It also gives him the ability to “regulate and control the flow of vehicular and pedestrian traffic and the congregation of persons.”

That means that Cooper could call off the convention.

Mecklenburg Health Director Gibbie Harris said she could also shut the convention down.

"At some point we could declare a public health emergency, and that does give us some flexibility in making those kinds of decisions," she said. "Obviously it would depend on the epidemiology of what’s happened in this community at the time."

If the county or state calls off the RNC – or at least no delegates and media at the RNC – that would also mean the Carolina Panthers would likely be playing before empty crowds.

During a news conference in Charlotte on Wednesday, Cooper did not address the RNC. The state has allowed the Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament in Greensboro to continue, but Cooper said the state is recommending that people who are sick or who at high risk do not attend the tournament or other "mass gatherings."

CNN is hosting a Democratic debate Sunday, but with no audience. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Wednesday that the NBA should play games without fans for the rest of the season, and the Golden State Warriors announced they will play Thursday's game against Brooklyn in San Francisco without fans.

The DNC is reportedly looking into whether its delegates could vote remotely

Go behind the headlines with WFAE political reporter Steve Harrison in his weekly newsletter, Inside Politics. Steve will provide insight about and analysis of local and statewide politics. Readers will gain an understanding of political news on the horizon and why it matters. 

While you're at it, go ahead and take a listen to our companion podcast: “Inside Politics: The RNC in Charlotte,” hosted by Steve Harrison and Lisa Worf.