Despite pressure from business leaders, Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts said Monday that at least for now, repealing the ordinance that led to House Bill 2 is off the table.
And in a memo, the city attorney said the city doesn’t have to act in order for the General Assembly to repeal HB2. Legislative leaders had made dropping the city’s ordinance a condition for repealing HB2.
“Some people don’t realize there’s no legal reason for Charlotte to do anything, and that’s the point we want to make clear to the community,” Roberts told the Observer.
In response, Gov. Pat McCrory and Republican legislative leaders blamed Roberts – and Attorney General Roy Cooper, the Democratic candidate for governor.
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“Despite offering a very reasonable solution and compromise for North Carolina, it’s obvious that D.C. special interest political pressures on elected Charlotte city officials – and even our own attorney general – again derailed common sense,” McCrory said in a statement.
House Speaker Tim Moore of Kings Mountain said city leaders want to “play politics.”
“There’s going to be discussions that occur down the road,” Moore told reporters in Raleigh. “But the first step for anything is that the Charlotte City Council, which started all of this, has to at least acknowledge and rescind what they did. … And frankly, the mayor of Charlotte could care less what happens with sports.”
The ordinance nullified by HB2 extended anti-discrimination protection to the LGBT community and would have allowed transgender people to use the bathroom or locker room of their gender identity.
Roberts’ comments came after a news conference in which State Rep. Chris Sgro, a Guilford County Democrat and executive director of gay rights group Equality NC, called HB2 “the worst anti-LGBT law in the nation.” He and other LGBT activists accused Republican leaders of “holding Charlotte hostage.”
A Cooper spokesman said the “new round of finger-pointing is ridiculous.”
“Unfortunately, Gov. McCrory just doesn’t seem to want to fix this,” said Ford Porter. “The governor needs to stop playing politics with our economy and call a special session to end this now by repealing HB2.”
The city’s decision came after a flurry of discussions that some had hoped would lead to repeal of HB2, which last week led to the loss of championship games of the Atlantic Coast Conference and the NCAA. The law also has been blamed for the loss of business investment and the cancellation of concerts and conventions.
On Friday, the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association announced it was trying to broker a compromise to stop the economic damage from HB2. And Sunday the Charlotte Chamber, along with hospitality and tourism leaders, called for the city and state to repeal the controversial laws.
The Chamber’s board said Monday it’s “disappointed” in the city decision.
“We applaud and support the intentions of the Charlotte City Council to extend nondiscrimination protections to the LGBT community, but are disappointed that the Council has not acted in response to the call for action from legislative leaders,” a statement said.
Chamber leaders had hoped the council would repeal the ordinance Monday night. But the council meeting was packed as supporters of the nondiscrimination ordinance held signs urging council not to repeal it.
Shortly before the zoning meeting began, loud music began playing and Roberts entered the room to wild applause.
The issue was not on Monday’s agenda. Only Roberts, interim City Manager Ron Kimble or a unanimous council could put it there.
Supporters of repealing the ordinance had worked furiously over the weekend and Monday to line up votes in favor of repeal. They lobbied three at-large Democrats: James Mitchell, Vi Lyles and Julie Eiselt. It appears unlikely that there are enough votes to rescind the ordinance. Six would be needed unless Roberts vetoed the move. Then it would take seven votes to override the veto.
Asked if she would veto a move to repeal the ordinance, Roberts said she “can’t answer a hypothetical.”
But she said she wants to “stand by these community values” of openness, to the LGBT community and others. Like Roberts, council member Vi Lyles said the state doesn’t legally need the city to do anything.
City Attorney Bob Hagemann agreed. In the memo to Roberts and the council, he said the council’s failure to repeal the ordinance “is in no way a legal obstacle or impediment to the General Assembly’s ability to modify or repeal House Bill 2 as it deems appropriate.”
Poll: More oppose HB2
Meanwhile, an Elon University poll released Monday found 49.5 percent of those surveyed opposed HB2 and 39.5 percent supported it.
The issue played into the gubernatorial race for both sides.
North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes blamed Roberts and Cooper for scuttling a deal.
“Roy Cooper’s silence on the Charlotte bathroom ordinance repeal deal confirms he was working with his ally Jennifer Roberts to kill any compromise all along,” he said in a statement.
Kimberly Reynolds, executive director of the Democratic Party, said McCrory should “quit holding our economy hostage.”
“The economic damage facing our state is being caused by HB2 – nothing else,” she said.
Both McCrory and Cooper will be in Charlotte Tuesday. McCrory speaks to a luncheon of the Charlotte Rotary uptown. Cooper speaks to a Hood-Hargett luncheon in SouthPark.
Staff writer Steve Harrison and Craig Jarvis of the (Raleigh) News & Observer contributed.