Charlotte liberal activists said they were confused when Mayor Vi Lyles announced Thursday that the city would bid for the 2020 Republican National Convention, which would likely launch President Donald Trump’s re-election bid.
They said they would be fine with the city hosting the RNC in any other election cycle, but they said Trump is a uniquely polarizing person. His positions on race and immigration would be “divisive,” especially in a city that faced protests in September 2016 after Keith Scott was shot and killed, some activists said.
Lyles, a Democrat who is the city’s first African-American female mayor, said Thursday she was focused on the economic opportunity. The Democratic National Convention in Charlotte four years ago was estimated to have an economic impact of $163 million.
“To invite such a racially dividing president as such a time as this – I don’t feel this sends a message of unity,” said Colette Forrest, the former chair of the Black Political Caucus, who backed Lyles for mayor. “I would not welcome that type of divisiveness in Charlotte where we haven’t healed from the wounds of Keith Lamont Scott.”
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Forrest said the president’s comments after the Charlottesville, Va., protests were particularly hurtful. Trump faced criticism for appearing to find moral equivocation between the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who organized and participated in the Aug. 12 rally and the counter-protesters who opposed them. Trump, responding to the tragedy, said “I think there’s blame on both sides” and added that protesters in Charlottesville included some “very fine” people.
Social worker Theresa McCormick-Dunlop, who protested after the Scott shooting, said she would have no problem hosting the RNC at any other time. But she said hosting Trump is “beyond the pale.”
She spoke to council members several weeks before the Scott shooting, warning them that people in the black community were frustrated by their relationship with police. She said the decision to pursue the RNC raises questions whether the city listened to them.
“You kinda wonder where the disconnect is occurring,” she said. “Our souls were so blatantly displayed (during the Scott protests?) How can we remain unconvinced that our political views are silent?”
Hector Vaca, Charlotte director for immigrant rights group Action NC, called Charlotte bidding for the 2020 RNC “a confusing move.”
The announcement that Charlotte will pursue the RNC comes as immigrants are worried about stepped-up raids and deportations and the lack of a political solution to the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program. Mecklenburg County’s deportation screening at the jail, known as 287(g), is an issue in the upcoming sheriff’s race.
But more inflammatory to many Latinos than any one policy might be the presence of Trump himself, who built his campaign on a promise to “build the wall” on the southern U.S. border, make Mexico pay for it and severely restrict immigration.
“This is a president who is waging a campaign of hate against immigrants,” said Vaca. “Charlotte is supposed to be progressive. The city is sending the wrong message to the immigrant community.”
The city and the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority said bids for the conventions are due at the end of the month.
The CRVA is an apolitical group, and pursues almost all business as part of its mission to “put heads in beds.” Charlotte submitted a bid to host the 2000 RNC, but didn’t win it. It won the 2012 Democratic National Convention. It considered bidding for the 2016 RNC, but declined.
None of those bids were controversial.
When Charlotte landed the 2012 DNC in 2010, President Barack Obama was deeply unpopular among some Charlotteans and conservatives nationwide. But the city’s two Republican council members in 2010 – Andy Dulin and Warren Cooksey – applauded the effort to bring the Democrats to the city.
“It was all about business,” Dulin said. “We supported it because it was good for Charlotte.”
Local Republicans cheered the news the Charlotte is bidding.
“Helping launch President Trump’s bid for re-election would be an honor,” said U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, Charlotte Republican.
The federal government reimburses host cities for much of their convention costs. But hosting the 2012 DNC still involved a massive effort by city officials, who spent countless hours planning and managing the event. Council members will have to take several votes on whether to host the convention, as well as buying police equipment and other items to host it.
Last summer, City Council Dimple Amjera angered Republicans when she said that “Republicans that are supporting Trump, they should have no place on city council whatsoever or in the mayor’s race.”
On Friday, she was in favor of the city’s efforts to win the RNC.
“We are looking forward showing our southern hospitality and we are looking forward to submitting a bid,” Ajmera said.
Charlotte could be a strong contender for the 2020 RNC.
In recent years, both political parties have placed their conventions in tightly contested states, like North Carolina, which Trump won by 3.7 percent. The Republicans held their 2016 convention in Ohio and their 2012 convention in Florida.
Autumn Watson was co-chair of the 2017 Women’s March in Charlotte, which drew thousands of people uptown. Many marchers were protesting Trump’s inauguration that same weekend.
“I can only speak for myself, personally. I don’t think (we should bid). Personally I would not want it. But a lot of my tax dollars go to things I’m not comfortable with.”
Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs