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Jax Host Committee Says RNC Moving Forward; Democrats Say Sheriff's Criticism 'Latest Blow'

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BILL BORTZFIELD / WJCT NEWS
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Jacksonville's Downtown Northbank skyline is pictured along with TIAA Bank Field, Daily's Place, VyStar Veteran's Memorial Arena and 121 Financial Field.

Planning continues for the Republican National Convention next month in Jacksonville, the host committee announced late Monday after Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams, a Republican, warned the city isn’t ready for even a scaled-down event.

“We continue to plan to host programming each day leading up to President Donald Trump’s speech accepting the nomination on Thursday, August 27th,” the host committee said in a news release. “We expect there to be evening programming each night, along with some daytime events and festivities.”

Most of the news release reiterated that the convention is being downsized because of the coronavirus pandemic, which the committee acknowledged Thursday. Florida has emerged as a global hotspot for the virus in recent weeks.

The news release came after Williams told reporters Monday afternoon he didn’t believe his agency could keep the convention safe with the short turnaround time after it was moved last month from Charlotte, N.C.

WJCT News partner The Florida Times-Union reported Williams said only “bits and pieces” of a plan were set, with concerns about having resources that would extend from the convention to anticipated protests “outside the perimeter.”

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“Where we are today is we can’t support this plan,” Williams told the Times-Union. “Where do we go from here is a good question. But where we are today, we can’t support it.”

Williams  added, “There’s got to be some major re-working of what’s happening.”

The host committee news release maintained the convention will be in Jacksonville, employing various health safety protocols for attendees, from Aug. 24 through Aug. 27.

“We plan to utilize a number of indoor and outdoor venues in this multi-block radius of Jacksonville, including the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, TIAA Bank Field, Daily’s Place Amphitheater, 121 Financial Ballpark and several others,” the host committee said.

Only regular delegates will be allowed to attend the first three days of the convention, while they will be able to bring guests to hear Trump publicly accept the party’s nomination. Alternate delegates will also get access to Trump’s speech.

Florida Democrats seized on Williams’ comments, saying they were the “latest blow to Trump’s Jacksonville ego trip.”

“Trump is putting the Jacksonville community at risk by recklessly pushing forward with this last-minute convention despite the obvious health and safety concerns,” Florida Democratic Party spokeswoman Frances Swanson said in a statement.

Republican leaders last month decided to move key parts of the convention from Charlotte to Jacksonville after Trump expressed displeasure that North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, was "unable to guarantee" that coronavirus social-distancing requirements would be lifted before the event.

A University of North Florida poll of registered Duval County voters released June 24 found 58% opposed to the convention and 42 percent in support, with the views mostly split along party lines.

Meanwhile 71% had concerns about the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, if a large number of people gathered for the convention, and 61% expressed some level of concern about protests and social unrest tied to the convention.