RNC 2020

Area leaders descend on Austin for final RNC vote: ‘Proud of our Charlotte team’

On the eve of what’s expected to be a formal vote to bring the 2020 Republican convention to Charlotte, city officials and business leaders descended on Austin Thursday for the announcement.

Meanwhile, Mecklenburg Republicans celebrated the anticipated announcement Thursday night at a southeast Charlotte wine bar.

Democratic Mayor Vi Lyles and a delegation of council members — Democrats Julie Eiselt and James Mitchell and Republicans Ed Driggs and Tariq Bokhari — came down for Friday’s vote by the 168-member Republican National Committee.

The RNC is expected to ratify what two sources described as Wednesday’s unanimous vote by the GOP’s site selection committee to put the convention in Charlotte.

The committee’s vote came two days after Charlotte’s 11-member city council approved convention contracts by a single vote after watching two hours of impassioned debate by citizens supporting and opposing the convention.

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Supporters touted the economic impact and said the city should show Republicans the same hospitality it showed Democrats in 2012. Critics said they feared potential violence or simply did not want the city associated with President Donald Trump.

In the end five Democrats voted against hosting it. Four Democrats joined the council’s two Republicans in support.

Ron Kaufman, who chaired the RNC site selection committee, said Thursday the public debate impressed him. He said GOP officials were impressed with the support from many Democrats.

But it could be awkward for the Democrats going to the Republican gathering.

“I will be professional and represent the city in a professional way,” said Eiselt, the mayor pro tem. She said she supported the convention only after it became clear the city would not be liable for security costs.

“My issue has always been security,” Eiselt said. “I got what I asked for. Now I think it’s time to put the city in the best light and put our best foot forward.”

Republicans, meanwhile, lauded the bipartisan support.

“I’m incredibly proud of our Charlotte team, particularly the mayor,” said state GOP Chairman Robin Hayes. “(They) have come together across party lines, across economic lines, to again highlight what a great town Charlotte, Mecklenburg and North Carolina are to have a national convention.”

Kaufman, speaking to Bokhari on the council member’s live social media stream, said he’s confident the convention and the city will be secure. Only 27 people were arrested at the last Republican convention in Cleveland, he said.

“I’m not worried at all (about Charlotte),” he said.

Lyles and Charlotte council members attended a reception Thursday night with members of the Republican National Committee. Former council member John Lassiter and Lending Tree founder Doug Lebda, co-chairs of the Charlotte host committee, also attended.

With American flag balloons hanging in decoration, about 50 Mecklenburg County Republicans gathered Thursday night at J Sam’s Wine Bar in SouthPark to celebrate Charlotte’s RNC bid.

Dressed in red, the group cheered as Republican leaders including state Rep. Bill Brawley, county commissioner Matthew Ridenhour and NCGOP Vice Chairman Michelle Nix talked about what hosting the RNC means for Charlotte and the county. They emphasized the economic impact the convention would bring.

Mecklenburg GOP Chairman Chris Turner said he’s exhausted but exuberant about the opportunity.

“We know we’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said. “We have to recruit 5,000 volunteers, (Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department) has an enormous amount of work ahead of them, working with the Secret Service and state and regional partners, but it also means we get to celebrate.”

Despite critics who spoke at a Charlotte City Council hearing Monday, Turner said, “this RNC is a party for everyone here and our city; it’s not just a Trump rally as it was portrayed. We’re very excited.”

Nix addressed the possibility of protests during the convention: “That happens no matter where you go, but I think most people are respectful of each other because we do live in America and we’re entitled to our own opinion.”

The Republican convention would be held in Spectrum Center, the site of the 2012 Democratic convention. Fred Whitfield, the Charlotte Hornets’ COO and president, said he’s ready for it.

“Anytime we can host a global event in our city that can drive huge economic impact, we’re one of the first in line to do our part to try and help,” he said. “We’re looking forward to 2020 the same way we’re looking forward to 2012. And honestly, I don’t think we get the RNC had we not done a great job as a community hosting the DNC.”

Staff writer Brendan Marks contributed.

Jim Morrill, 704-358-5059; @jimmorrill