Democrats opposed to hosting the Republican National Convention have focused much of their anger on one man: first-term City Council member Larken Egleston, a Democrat who arguably cast the deciding vote.
Egleston has been bombarded on social media with expletives and threats after he voted in favor of approving tentative contracts with the Republican National Committee and the local host committee. The council’s 6-5 vote paves the way for the RNC to award Charlotte the convention. City leaders expect the RNC site selection committee to back Charlotte Wednesday morning.
“I would be doing a lot better without the internet,” Egleston said Tuesday morning in an interview, a reference to the deluge of criticism he has received by email, Twitter and Facebook.
At Monday’s meeting, Egleston said politicians shouldn’t always be thinking about the next election, perhaps anticipating the criticism. He said he would not “combat the disappointing characteristics of this president by emulating them.”
The morning after the vote, he said he knew his vote would be unpopular.
“It’s not the end of my world if I’m only on City Council for two years,” he said Tuesday.
On Twitter, the group “No RNC in CLT” posted that Egleston “won his 2017 primary by only 432 votes, 6.52% of total votes. Perhaps we should remind him of that.”
Egleston represents District 1, which covers South End, part of uptown, Dilworth, Villa Heights, Tryon Hills and Plaza Midwood. It has a smaller percentage of Republicans than the city overall (18 percent to 21 percent in the city).
Egleston, a first-time candidate, defeated longtime incumbent Patsy Kinsey in the September 2017 Democratic primary.
One of the key issues in the campaign was an unpopular rezoning decision in which council members and Kinsey rejected a bid to build townhomes and a swim club on the Van Landingham Estate in Plaza Midwood. That decision drew much smaller media attention and interest from District 1 activists than Monday’s RNC vote.
Kinsey on Tuesday said she would have voted against the RNC, and left the door open for running for City Council again.
Didn’t announce position
Egleston has drawn the ire of liberal voters for several reasons, even though he was one of four Democratic council members to support the convention.
Democratic activist Ray McKinnon, a pastor who opposed the RNC, said it’s “a little unfair that he’s getting the lion share of the blame.”
McKinnon said that liberal voters assumed Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt, a moderate, would support the convention. Eiselt had also announced she would vote yes before the meeting. He said activists gave Democratic Mayor Vi Lyles a pass because she had always supported hosting.
Egleston did not say how he would vote before the meeting, leading Democratic activists to hope he was on their side. The 35-year-old is one of five new council members under 40 elected in November.
“With Larken being in the new class, and having the makeup of his district, folks thought he would be more swayable,” McKinnon said. “It’s very likely he will get a primary challenger.”
Leading up to Monday’s vote, Egleston had told the media he was undecided. His colleagues believed he would be a yes vote.
After about 100 residents spoke, Lyles gave each council member a chance to give his or her view of the RNC. When she got to Egleston, four council members had voiced support for the convention. Five had said they would oppose it.
The other remaining council member — Democrat James Mitchell — had long been a backer of the RNC.
Before his vote to support the RNC, Egleston said: “Hosting the RNC in Charlotte in no way implies our endorsement of this president.”
Egleston said Tuesday his colleagues viewed Monday’s vote as whether to move forward with the bid. Egleston said that vote and discussion should have happened months ago, and he felt it was too late to reject the RNC after five months of trying to win it.
“(This week’s) vote was really about do we want to flip the table over,” he said.
Democrat Justin Harlow, who voted no, said last week that the RNC has plenty of time to find another city.
Democrat Braxton Winston, who also voted no, compared the city’s February bid with walking into a restaurant and sitting at the table.
“If you don’t like what’s on the menu, you get up and leave,” Winston said.
Kinsey, who lost to Egleston, said last week the council always has the right to change its mind.
She said Tuesday she would have voted no.
“It was not because I didn’t think the RNC should come,” Kinsey said. “I’m just very, very scared about what (protests) might have come along with it.”
Kinsey said she might run again.
“A wise gentleman once told me, ‘Never say never,’ “ Kinsey said.
Egleston says no conflict
After the vote, Egleston said he was asked by constituents whether his job in sales for a liquor distributor influenced his vote. The RNC is expected to boost the hospitality industry.
But he said he works on salary — not commission — for a national distributor. He said he would not receive any benefit from the convention.
N.C. law requires that elected officials vote, and they can only be recused in rare instances when they would benefit directly.
In the past, the city has said a direct benefit would be if a council member owned a business that was to receive a city contract.
“We are supposed to vote,” Egleston said. “We are not supposed to take the easy way out and recuse ourselves.”
McKinnon said Egleston told him after the vote he supported the RNC because he felt like it was the right thing to do.
“It isn’t my place to tell someone to violate their conscience,” he said. “But Democrats who believe this will blow over have miscalculated their base.”