Charlotte leaders vote 6-5 to endorse hosting RNC in 2020

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Charlotte City Council gave the go-ahead on Monday to host the Republican National Convention in 2020 if the city is selected, with a 6-5 vote.

The offer from the GOP has yet to be extended, but published reports suggest Charlotte is favored to land the convention.

Citizens were given a chance to express their views at Monday's meeting, which started at 2 p.m.

There were 132 people signed up to speak. That’s more people signed up than any other meeting in recent history, including the one following the Keith Scott shooting protests.

Speakers poured into the Government Center Monday afternoon.

Protesters also gathered outside the Government Center.

"I think that this is probably one of the most difficult decisions and the most tested for us as a council," Mayor Vi Lyles said. "But I welcome that test because if we're not tested, we're not doing the right things."

Lyles emphasized the vote to approve the bid isn't an endorsement of Trump.

"I believe that hosting the Republican convention is about what opportunities we can make of it after this very, very difficult time of deliberation," she said.

City councilman Braxton Winston, who debated fellow councilman Tariq Bokhari over the issue, said the outcome wasn't unexpected, but he added that the city now must make sure "the people of Charlotte are centered in this."

"That the priorities that we have collectively come up with, around economic inequities, upward mobility, housing, and transportation infrastructure don't get lost in this process," Winston said.

Under the agreement, the date of the 2020 Republican National Convention has to be determined by Sept. 15.

Reporter Joe Bruno is traveling to Austin, Texas for the RNC’s summer meetings. Look for his reports starting Tuesday on Eyewitness News at 5.

The host committee of the RNC has to pay the city for all costs not covered by the $50 million federal security grant, except for items that the police chief or city manager want to keep for law enforcement purposes.

If the federal security grant doesn't come through by March 2020, the city has the right to terminate its agreement to host the RNC and the host committee has to reimburse all prior costs excluding assets the police chief wants to keep.

The Charlotte Regional Visitor's Authority is allowing the RNC to use the convention center rent-free.

The RNC would be held in the Spectrum Center.

The Queen City, a Democrat-dominated city whose transgender-friendly bathroom ordinance triggered a statewide political war, is a front-runner to host the convention where President Donald Trump seeks an anointing to run for a second term.

Lyles said that would be just fine, but some local Democratic officials say, "Not so fast."

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In a column for The Charlotte Observer, Lyles said while the nation is at "a tipping point of incivility," the city can show its inclusiveness and demonstrate values of respect while honoring differences. Lyles, elected last fall, is the city's first black female mayor.

Councilwoman LaWana Mayfield, however, said her constituents have expressed concerns based on "the language that comes out of this administration."

Opponents have cited Trump's statements denigrating minorities, Muslims, women, and the LGBTQ population.

Fellow council member Braxton Winston said in a video that Charlotte should slow down and discuss whether it should pursue the convention. On his Facebook page, Winston said bringing the convention to Charlotte should be more than an economic decision.

"We would be asking the people of Charlotte to host a celebration for a brand of politics that has been highly divisive and some would say dangerous to our community," Winston wrote.

If Charlotte, North Carolina's largest city, were to host the convention, the GOP would be visiting a community where it hasn't fared well against Democrats in the last two presidential elections.

President Barack Obama carried Mecklenburg County in 2012 with 60 percent of the vote. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton won the county over Trump in 2016 with 62 percent of the vote. In 2012, Charlotte hosted the convention that launched Obama's second run for The White House. North Carolina voted for the GOP in 2012 and 2016 after Obama won the state in 2008.

Charlotte policymakers have also enraged political leaders in the Republican-dominated state.

In 2016, the Charlotte City council expanded a local nondiscrimination ordinance to cover LGBT people. One revision allowed people to choose restrooms corresponding to the gender with which they identify. In response, state lawmakers passed a law requiring transgender people to use public bathrooms that match the sex on their birth certificates. A nationwide backlash against the state law was immediate and fierce. The Republican governor who signed it, Pat McCrory, ended up losing his office.

Still, Lyles says a Republican convention in Charlotte could be a good thing.

Speaking recently to the Democratic Women of Mecklenburg County, Lyles said that while she doesn't expect to deliver the welcoming address, she said the city's job is to make sure it's safe to hold the convention in light of anticipated protests.

"We have to plan a strategy around people being able to exercise their First Amendment rights," Lyles said. "I can't speak to what 2020 will bring, but I think each of us is aware of what's going on in this country. What I would hope is that we would have the ability to showcase what's right about working together in government here in Charlotte."

Community activist Jibril Hough fears a GOP convention in Charlotte would amount to a repeat of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where protesters from across the country converged to express objections to the Vietnam war. Demonstrations that turned violent amid confrontations with police were televised to the nation.

"It's not a typical RNC convention. This is Donald Trump. This is the party of Donald Trump," Hough said. "I see more than 'us against them.' His supporters will be here, so it may end up being some clashes. So there will be safety concerns, no doubt."

On Monday, council members Julie Eiselt, James Mitchell Jr., Larken Egleston, Greg Phipps, Tariq Bokhari and Ed Driggs voted yes to endorse hosting the RNC in 2020.

Winston, Dimple Ajmera, Matt Newton, Justin Harlow and Mayfield voted no.

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