CHARLOTTE — A divided North Carolina city council narrowly approved a bid Monday to host the 2020 Republican National Convention, a decision that followed nearly two hours of comments pro and con from local residents and council members.
After a public discussion period with more than 100 speakers and nearly one hour of debate among themselves, the Charlotte City Council voted 6-5 in favor of hosting the event.
Charlotte, North Carolina’s largest city, has been considered a front-runner for the convention. Published reports showed a number of cities thought to be up for the event didn’t actually submit bids.
Mayor Vi Lyles, Charlotte’s first black female mayor, had led efforts to secure the convention, despite critics who decried the attempt because of President Donald Trump’s statements denigrating minorities, Muslims, women and the LGBTQ population.
“I think that this is probably one of the most difficult decisions and the most tested for us as a council,” 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.
Monday’s vote was not a surprise for at least one Republican Party leader.
“It wasn’t totally surprising as we were given a heads-up this past week that although there was clearly opposition to the RNC coming to Charlotte, that the votes were still there to welcome the convention bid,” said Phillip Stephens, Robeson County Republican Party chairman. “Keep in mind it was a narrow vote. There was plenty of opposition. But the majority prevailed.”
It’s also not surprising that the council vote was narrow, he said. Stephens said it’s interesting that Charlotte was less concerned about right-wing protestors at the Democratic National Convention it hosted and more concerned about left-wing protestors at the RNC.
“Let’s be clear, though, that the GOP is appreciative for the support of the Charlotte council,” Stephens said. “We doubt it’s softening, and though we’d hope they are simply being fair since the DNC was held in Charlotte, it probably is more economic. Which is as perfectly a good reason as any, so that’s not a complaint.”
Charlotte 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.
This vote is a sign that Charlotte and North Carolina can offer everything needed for a successful convention, said Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party. The city and the state have the right facilities, deep community and business support, and past experience.
“This is an important economic development project as well an a unique opportunity to showcase our great state,” Woodhouse said.
Some opponents of the bid carried green-and-white signs that read “No RNC In CLT. #defendcharlotte.” Among those with a sign was Mandy Deese, 39, a Charlotte paralegal.
“I consider the 6-5 vote a win because that lets Donald Trump know that this city does not want him here,” Deese said. “We didn’t vote for him. We protest against him every time we have a chance. And that just shows that these people that care about their communities have said, ‘Nope, we agree with the public.’”
Supporters carried white sheets of paper with “2020 RNC Supporter” printed on black letters. One man stood outside the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center holding a big white flag with the red, white and blue GOP logo on it.
Many pro-convention speakers represented hotels and the service industry, among them Dan Hooks, who said the council should look past political rhetoric and see what’s good for the city.
Hooks said to reject the RNC would be to reverse the good done by hosting the Democratic National Convention in 2012.
Other businesspeople said hosting the convention would mean jobs and paychecks for residents who would work extra hours during the week of the convention. Some mentioned that the city would be showcased to the nation by hosting the convention.
Brenda Jackson-Little said the RNC would be “a tremendous economic boon for the region.”
Former city councilman Kenny Smith urged support for the bid.
“A ‘no’ vote only hurts the city you have sworn to represent,” Smith said. “Cast aside politics.”
If Charlotte hosts the convention, the GOP will 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.