Gov. Roy Cooper knocked down two years of effort to present the Republican National Convention in Charlotte — and Queen City leaders are showing no immediate signs of pushing back.
Officials of several business-promotion groups wouldn’t comment today on the dispute between the governor and President Donald Trump over the Republican National Convention, which was expected to provide a $163 million bump to the city’s sagging economy and advance international recognition of the city. Trump said yesterday the GOP would look for a new site for the late August event after the party declined Cooper’s requests to scale back the convention to accommodate public-health concerns tied to the coronavirus.
We sought comment from among others, the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance, the Greater Charlotte Hospitality and Tourism Alliance and the NC Chamber. All have been strong promoters of the convention. None provided an immediate statement.
The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority said it was moving forward with planning until it receives official notification from the Republican National Committee. Lynn Minges, CEO of the N.C. Restaurant & Lodging Association, said in an email that she is “optimistic that leaders will work together to agree on a plan that allows the convention to proceed while still protecting health and safety.”
CLT Host 2020, the nonprofit committee promoting the convention, issued a statement about its disappointment at plans to move the convention. “Our team has worked diligently and in good faith for over two years and this decision will unfortunately impact small businesses, the hospitality sector and other industries and dedicated workers counting on the positive benefit of convention activities and events. We had hoped this convention would be an opportunity to showcase our region’s vibrancy to an international audience. We are working with our partners to better understand the implications of recent events and any potential path forward.”
The committee, city officials and CVRA are meeting Thursday to discuss the situation, Charlotte City Attorney Patrick Baker said today.
Many Charlotte leaders are probably happy that Cooper is blocking the event because a convention marred by anti-Trump protests and lack of adherence to social distancing and other public health measures would cause negative images for the city, says Susan Roberts, a political science professor at Davidson College.
“You would have had problems at the convention even before the pandemic and George Floyd protests,” she says. “The optics could be very bad for Charlotte.”
But Republican politicians slam the governor’s actions, which they say shows a disinterest in the welfare of small businesses and workers.
“The corporate community and Charlotte [Alliance] have thrown our travel and tourism industry under the bus,” former Gov. Pat McCrory says. “They have been silent about speaking out on behalf of the hardworking cab drivers, chefs, hotel clerks and maids, and other people who will be negatively impacted by the RNC leaving North Carolina.” McCrory, who lost his re-election bid to Cooper in 2016, now has a morning radio show in Charlotte.
The GOP convention always divided local politicians in a city with few Republican elected officials. But influential business leaders pulled together enough support to convince Mayor Vi Lyles and the Democratic-controlled city council to approve the city’s successful bid. The CLT Host 2020 group led by former Republican City Councilman John Lassiter has a $70 million fundraising goal to stage the event, which follows the Democratic National Convention held in Charlotte in 2012.
Trump hasn’t wavered from his insistence on enabling 19,000 people to fill the city’s Spectrum Center arena for three days. Another 30,000 people, including a couple thousand global journalists, were likely to visit Charlotte during the week.
Public health officials contend inside gatherings of large crowds can become “super-spreader” events that cause widespread contractions of the virus. Trump and others have said such spreads can be mitigated, and the need to restart the sagging economy deserves priority.
Cooper urged the GOP to provide details of a scaled-down convention, but hasn’t explained what he deemed acceptable. “We have been committed to a safe RNC convention in North Carolina, and it’s unfortunate they never agreed to scale down and make changes to keep people safe,” the governor said yesterday.
McCrory criticized that approach. “It’s like the government asking you to write the rules for what fish you are going to catch before handing out a fishing license,” he says. “It’s just a political game on Roy Cooper’s part.”
U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop of Charlotte, a strong Trump ally, noted that Cooper is allowing thousands of N.C. college students to return to campus two weeks before the RNC convention without any detailed plans. He also criticized the governor’s performance compared with peers in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee, which have been more aggressive in allowing businesses to reopen. “Some governors managed tough COVID outbreaks to success,” Bishop tweeted yesterday.
Added Michael Whatley, chairman of the N.C. Republican Party: “It’s certainly a gut punch for the restaurants, hotels and entertainment venues in and around Charlotte.”