Why Charlotte is melting down right now over the Republican National Convention

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Charlotte has been talking off and on since February about hosting the 2020 Republican National Convention. While the politics of these things are always strange, such conventions are a major event that puts the city on a world stage.

So why is the Charlotte City Council all of a sudden melting down over it?

The drama came to a head Monday evening when hundreds of people crowded into the Government Center to voice their opinions over whether Charlotte should support bringing the convention to town. More than 100 people spoke, with opinions divided nearly down the middle.

The City Council ended up voting 6-5 to sign a contract backing the convention coming to Charlotte. The Republican National Committee could award it as soon as this week.

Here’s how we got here.

First off, why does Charlotte want to host conventions?

For several decades now, Charlotte has fancied itself a world-class city. In recent years, this has translated into city leaders aggressively pursuing major events.

Charlotte has hosted an NCAA Final Four, an NBA All-Star Game, a national NRA convention, and just last year a PGA Championship.

The crown jewel came in 2012, when Charlotte landed the Democratic National Convention that renominated President Barack Obama for a second term. Hosting it was a massive two-year undertaking that brought together all of the city’s political and business leaders.

Tens of thousands of people visited Charlotte for the first time, spending tens of millions in the city’s restaurants, hotels and other local establishments.

Michelle Obama speaking at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Photo by Steve Bott via Flickr (Creative Commons)

It went really well, honestly. There were no major hiccups and everybody left with a pretty positive impression of Charlotte.

Almost immediately after the successful 2012 Democratic National Convention, political people started talking about whether Charlotte could host the Republicans at some point in the future.

There’s only a few cities that have hosted both national parties: New York City, Miami, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia. In other words, cities that Charlotte desperately wants to be like.

uptown skyline sunset from wework

How does this process work?

Typically, the two major national parties start soliciting bids from cities interested in hosting the election-year convention about two and a half years in advance. And typically, at least a half-dozen cities will line up willing to offer millions of dollars worth of support to bring it home. This is generally the free use of an arena, meeting space and office space.

Party leaders will spend a few months touring and talking with local officials. And then in the summer of the mid-term elections, they make a decision.

But nothing about President Donald Trump and 2018 politics is typical. No other cities have expressed interest in hosting the 2020 Republican National Convention, which presumably would nominate President Trump for a second term.

[Agenda story: Charlotte is the front-runner to host the 2020 Republican National Convention — because no one else wants to]

trump-charlotte-nc

Trump speaking in Charlotte. Photo via Facebook

There is one other bid — from a private group in Las Vegas. It’s pretty disorganized, though: Nobody knows where the convention activities would even be held there.

Where are we now?

Back in February, Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles (a Democrat, like 9 out of 11 City Council members) announced that the city would pursue a bid for the 2020 RNC.

This bid was officially submitted in April. Republican Party leaders came and toured the city around then.

They’re expected to announce their decision this week after the party’s summer meeting. And word is leaking out that Charlotte is going to be the pick.

So that’s why people are mad all of a sudden, right?

Yeah, pretty much. Democratic elected officials appeared to be on board back in February and April when hosting Trump and his party felt theoretical. Now that it’s appearing likely, they’re slamming on the brakes.

City Council member Braxton Winston publicly called for a community conversation a few weeks ago about whether Charlotte should host the RNC. The Democratic Women of Mecklenburg narrowly voted last week not to support the bid.

Photo by Braxton Winston for Charlotte City Council via Facebook

Fellow Democrats LaWana Mayfield, Justin Harlow and Dimple Ajmera have since come out and said they don’t support bringing the convention to town.

All of this came to a head Monday afternoon when the City Council voteed on a contract to support hosting the Republican National Convention.

What’s the vote about?

The vote is on two contracts with a “host committee” of business leaders. The first basically says Charlotte will help out with security and traffic. The federal government gives $50 million grants for policing, but it’s on the local police department to take care of things.

The second allows the RNC to use the Spectrum Center in Uptown, which the city owns.

While the City Council vote will technically be about whether to approve these contracts, it’s more about whether the city wants the RNC in general.

Several City Council members have said they’ll vote no because they don’t like Trump or his values. But Ajmera made the case that it puts Charlotte taxpayers at too great a risk.

This is the main reason why everything appears to be a dumpster fire right now. Republican councilman Tariq Bokhari has fought vigorously against this assertion on Facebook and Twitter and in the media.

The terms of the contract were released Sunday evening, showing that the host committee is on the hook for cost overruns, not city taxpayers.

How’d the vote go?

It was close.

Yes votes were mayor pro tem Julie Eiselt, Bokhari, Republican Ed Driggs, economic development committee chairman James Mitchell, Greg Phipps and Larken Egleston.

No votes were LaWana Mayfield, Dimple Ajmera, Matt Newton and Justin Harlow.

Mayor Lyles supported bringing the convention to Charlotte, but she only votes in the event of a tie.

Mayor Vi Lyles

What comes after that?

The Republican National Committee will likely announce later this week that Charlotte will be the host of the 2020 convention.

That will touch off two years of preparation. Republican operatives will move to Charlotte almost right away, and Charlotte will spin up a host committee of business leaders to help raise money and lay plans.

And then in the summer of 2020, Charlotte becomes the political center of the world.

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Andrew Dunn
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