Duval County Republicans are heralding the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Jacksonville as a great opportunity to put the city in the national spotlight and economic growth, while the local Democratic Party is outlining major concerns.
“We are overjoyed because our city has an opportunity to really set an example, because there's something else that our city has demonstrated: its ability to do very well,” said Duval GOP Party Chairman Dean Black on Friday.
Mayor Lenny Curry has said that the economic impact the city will see will be in the $100 million range. Black believes that number is modest, based on studies he said his party has done on previous conventions.
“If you dig into it, you'll find that there are numbers out there that say no, that the number is closer to $200 million,” Black said.
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In a Friday morning press conference, Curry pointed to the fanless UFC sporting event that took place at Vystar Veteran’s Memorial Arena and a steady 2.7% COVID-19 infection rate in the county as reasons that the city can handle an event like the RNC.
The mayor didn’t go into details on what safety protocols will be in place when the RNC is happening from August 24-27.
“We're two and a half months out,” Curry said. “The status of COVID-19, the risk of COVID-19, what it will look like in late August, will likely not look like what it does today.”
Black was also light on details when it came to COVID-19 preparation for the event, although he said there are already plans in place for extra sanitization and temperature checks at the door.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is a terrible tragedy worldwide, but we simply cannot crawl under a rock and stay there forever,” Black said. “At some point we must figure out how to live again.”
Curry also said there will be “significant” federal funding that will come to the city that will help handle security and other needed resources, and that the event will not be paid for by the city.
“We have a host committee that is a non-profit, non-political, no-party affiliated organization that is the tourism and event arm of the event that will raise private dollars, tens of millions of dollars of private dollars to pay for this,” Curry said.
Black said the RNC and Republican Party of Florida have fundraisers in place to pay for the events as well.
“The Republican Party of Duval County knows that we bring so much to the table,” Black said. “We have unified Republican governance. We have a highly effective government here.”
In recent weeks, protests have taken place throughout Jacksonville and much of the nation regarding racial tensions, inequities, and police brutality.
The RNC will also come during the anniversary of Ax Handle Saturday, when a group of white men with ax handles attacked peaceful black protesters who were sitting at a Jacksonville white-only lunch counter in August of 1960.
“We have to acknowledge that, and it’s a terrible time in our city,” Curry said. “That is in no way connected to this economic event though that will happen in our city.”
Black said while people have the right to protest during the RNC, he refused to accept that Jacksonville hosting the RNC is divisive.
“It's only divisive if you choose to make it so,” Black said. “Choose not to be divided.”
Daniel Henry, the Chair of the Duval County Democratic Party, said the divisiveness will be exacerbated due to the anniversary.
“It’s definitely going to be a day that a lot of people are going to be angry,” Henry said.
Henry also said he isn’t sold on the projected $100 million Mayor Lenny Curry has projected.
“The economic impact, I think, will be negligible to be quite honest,” Henry said. “It's going to be spread across a multiple county region, but I do not believe that it's going to have a $100 million dollar impact.”
Recently, Curry announced that Confederate monuments and markers in Jacksonville would be coming down, along with a new committee focused on racial inequities and law enforcement issues.
But Henry believes those actions were to soften the public backlash the administration would receive from announcing the RNC relocation.
“Obviously this was planned,” Henry said. “This is orchestrated in order for him to not only have maximum impact for the announcement, but also appear to the RNC and on the national stage that Jacksonville is a bastion of progressivism and that we are moving forward on our racial issues.”
Curry denied similar allegations Friday, saying his actions earlier in the week were just the “right thing to do.”
“One thing I think most voters - both Republican and Democrat - recognize in this political season that they don't like inauthentic politicians,” Henry said. “And now that we have the full scale of the past two weeks to kind of look back at and see the sequence of events, I really question the genuineness of some of the decisions that were made leading up to this convention.”
Mayor Lenny Curry pushed for the event to come to the River City for weeks online, tweeting out endorsements for the city. He made a video announcement that the event was confirmed in Jacksonville Thursday night.
Sky Lebron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.