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Politics / Issues

GOP Selects Jacksonville To Host Republican National Convention

Downtown Jacksonville
Downtown Jacksonville

Jacksonville will host the biggest pieces of the 2020 National Republican Convention in August.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel announced the decision Thursday night, “"We are thrilled to celebrate this momentous occasion in the great city of Jacksonville," McDaniel said.

"Not only does Florida hold a special place in President Trump’s heart as his home state, but it is crucial in the path to victory in 2020.  We look forward to bringing this great celebration and economic boon to the Sunshine State in just a few short months," she added.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, who has been lobbying for the convention, praised the work that has been done in a short period of time.

“The herculean task of securing the 2020 Convention was led by two senior members of my administration, Jordan Elsbury and Brian Hughes. Together on my behalf, they worked with Visit Jacksonville’s Michael Corrigan to secure over 10,000 hotel rooms, coordinated with private entities and the City’s facility Manager, ASM Global, to secure host venues. All of these combined are anticipated to bring an economic impact of more than $100 million to our City. We will continue to collaborate with local, state, and federal law enforcement to insure we host a safe and secure event,” Curry said.

The RNC’s Executive Committee voted unanimously to allow the official business of the national convention to continue in Charlotte. But, because of the current North Carolina COVID-19 restrictions the GOP said, “the celebration of the nomination and the economic impact that goes with it must be moved to Jacksonville.”  

President Donald Trump’s desire for a traditional convention with big crowds has raised concerns about the potential spread of COVID-19 in Jacksonville.

Thursday morning Duval GOP Chairman Dean Black said on First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross health concerns will be addressed but didn’t say whether that might include conventioneers' wearing face masks.

“That's really a question for planning and the committee on arrangements and it is also a public health question. But even the CDC guidance doesn't mandate the wearing of masks. That's a decision, frankly, that will be made in light of better developed information and circumstances as you get closer to the actual event itself,” Black said.

He also made a jab at the presumptive Democratic nominee, Sen. Joe Biden.

“I believe that Joe Biden is probably going to stay in his basement and they're going to host a webinar. They will decide what's best for them. The Republican Party in history marches on,” he said.

Black added the RNC will be “the greatest event to come to Jacksonville since the Super Bowl,” which the city hosted in 2005.

Duval County Democratic Party Chairman Daniel Henry was also a guest on Thursday’s First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross.

Henry was critical of the president's and RNC's objections to North Carolina’s social distancing guidelines for the GOP convention in Charlotte.

“The CDC itself has said that there's potentially going to be another round of the virus this fall. Those were conditions that the RNC was unwilling to live up to, and now we find them showing up on our doorstep wanting to throw a big party and parade,” said Henry.

But Republicans have countered they can hold a “safe, secure and successful” convention.

“Florida is open for business and ready to roll out the red carpet,” said Republican Party of Florida Chairman Joe Gruters, who is also a state senator from Sarasota.

Mayor Lenny Curry has promoted the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena as a "world class facility" that could host the Republican National Convention
Credit BILL BORTZFIELD / WJCT NEWS
Mayor Lenny Curry has promoted the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena as a "world class facility" that could host the Republican National Convention

Henry also cast doubt on the economic benefit the convention will bring to Jacksonville. Mayor Lenny Curry, a Republican, has tweeted that it will result in a $100 million economic impact for the city.

“No one can actually point to any kind of study that proves that,” Henry said, questioning the wisdom of the added financial strain a convention would put on the city as it is still dealing with the economic outfall of the pandemic.

“Putting the city in a position where we have to use our reserves to cover these costs at the same time we're most likely going to have to dip into them to cover expenses for essential services, I think is irresponsible,” Henry said.

Political analyst Matthew Corrigan, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Jacksonville University, also weighed in on First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross. He said Jacksonville is a coveted battleground. 

“Jacksonville's been a real spotlight for both political parties over the last couple of decades. You know, we had a very close election in terms of the votes last time with Trump and Clinton, and as Democrats have become more competitive on the presidential level in Jacksonville over the last 20 years or so," he said.

Corrigan said it makes sense to bring a national party convention to Jacksonville from an electoral standpoint.

He said getting the convention is a real feather in Curry’s cap, pointing to Curry’s long history with the GOP, including serving as a former state party chairman.

The political analyst pointed out the convention will put Jacksonville on a national stage. 

“You could use this as an impetus for some changes because you want to show a good face to the world and you will have worldwide recognition at this point,” Corrigan said, referring to a new City Council committee that is looking at policy changes to address social justice and racial inequality issues.

Hear the full interview with Black, Henry and Corrigan, along with listener calls, on Thursday’s First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross.

Bill Bortzfield can be reached at bbortzfield@wjct.org, 904-358-6349 or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.

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