3 lessons from the City Council’s recruitment of the RNC

People hold signs for and against the Republican National Convention during a Charlotte City Council forum this month.
People hold signs for and against the Republican National Convention during a Charlotte City Council forum this month. AP
Elected officials will miss a valuable opportunity if they don’t examine the process leading to the Charlotte City Council’s decision to host the Republican National Convention. There’s much to learn from this experience.

Here’s the history: On Dec. 8 of last year, just days after she’d taken office, Mayor Vi Lyles received the Republican Party’s invitation to bid on hosting its 2020 national convention. She began meeting with City Council members individually, asking what they thought about hosting. The council’s two Republicans and eight of its nine Democrats (all but LaWana Mayfield) said go for it.

The mayor also met with U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican from Huntersville, to enlist his aid. Council member Ed Driggs began recruiting support from fellow Republicans. Soon local and state Republican leaders joined the Democratic mayor and council majority in backing Charlotte’s bid. Over the next few months, Charlotte emerged as the favorite.

A review by the Observer’s Steve Harrison of two closed-session meetings held by the council and mayor found that as of June 25, council support remained steadfast. Privately, however, some council Democrats had second thoughts about hosting what could be a celebration of Donald Trump’s renomination.

Only days after being in support of the convention bid, they began to speak out against it. A council vote was scheduled for July 16.

Here’s how council member Julie Eiselt, a Democrat, reacted on WFAE to their change of heart: “In March, 10 of the 11 council members gave the mayor the green light to move forward and she did that. I think that now on the eve of this decision, it could bring irreparable damage to our city to walk that back.”

How? Charlotte is a Democratic city, yet Republicans control the state and federal government. “We’ve seen the damage it can cause by how bad our relationship is. We’ve been through HB2,” Eiselt said, referring to the state legislature’s smackdown of a Charlotte ordinance extending civil rights protections to gay and transgender persons. “We’ve got to have relationships with the state and federal government to accomplish our goals for affordable housing, for transit, for building our infrastructure, for keeping our airport, for anything we want to do.” Withdrawing the city’s bid after the Republican National Committee seemed ready to accept it would shatter those relationships, she believed.

In the end the council’s support held firm, with four Democrats and two Republicans voting for it and five Democrats against. The city averted the damage that Eiselt feared.

What might elected officials learn from this experience?

1. Don’t make commitments lightly. Breaking them can come at a high price paid over a long time.

2. As soon as you have questions or doubts about a position you’ve taken, raise them. The goal of good governance is better served by deliberation than surprise.

3. Don’t assume that every dilemma must be an either/or proposition. Sometimes there is a both/and alternative. Look for it.