Jacksonville Council President: ‘No Communication’ From Mayor On RNC Plans

Jul 7, 2020

City Council President Tommy Hazouri said Tuesday it concerns him greatly that Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration may come to the City Council with a “hurry up offense” for part of the Republican National Convention being held in Jacksonville.

Appearing on First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross Tuesday, Hazouri said, “We’ve got no communication, quite frankly, in the mayor’s office about what their plans are.”

Hazouri, a Democrat, said the mayor, a Republican, has assured the City Council the city will be reimbursed for expenses incurred, but added, “I’m a little skeptical about that.”

His comments come after the Jacksonville RNC 2020 Host Committee announced Monday it is "working to raise tens of millions of dollars to support hosting this historic event in August and we are confident we will have the resources needed."

A July 4 report by The New York Times raised questions about the viability of fundraising for the Jacksonville portion of the event after donors had already given tens of millions of dollars to support the RNC when it was planned for the original host city of Charlotte.

The council president is also concerned about COVID-19 and whether President Trump's GOP nomination acceptance speech should even be held at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.

Referring to the mayor, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and the Republican Party, Hazouri said, “I’m hoping that they’ll continue to be responsible. I don’t think you can put 15,000 people in the arena with masks, especially mandated.” Curry announced a mask mandate at all indoor and public locations where social distancing isn't possible on June 29.

The Jacksonville RNC 2020 Host Committee said in a Monday news release sent to WJCT News, “Everyone attending the convention within the perimeter will be tested and temperature checked each day.” The question of whether masks would be required wasn't addressed in the news release.

Hazouri doesn’t necessarily think the City Council can force the cancellation of the convention, saying, "I don't know that we have that power." However, he said the council could reject whatever final proposal ends up being presented. “I think our leverage is going to be in approving or not approving whatever they bring to us for approval of, to make this event happen.”

Curry was asked about the concerns that Hazouri raised a few hours later at a COVID-19 news conference. Curry directed Jordan Elsbury, the mayor’s director of intergovernmental affairs, to respond.

Related

Elsbury said the RNC is a private event, indicating it’s not up to the council to approve it. “As it relates to a private group hosting a private event for a private entity, there's just not a whole lot of City Council involvement there.” Elsbury added, “We continue to answer questions from City Council members. They all have my cell phone number.”

Monday, the host committee emphasized again the economic impact it expects the event to bring: “Based on economic impact studies of past events, National Conventions have the potential to create hundreds of direct jobs with an associated tens of millions of dollars in labor income, draw tens of thousands of visitors to the host city and inject $100+ million into the local economy.”

The full interview with Hazouri, along with his thoughts on social justice in Jacksonville, is on Tuesday's First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross.

Bill Bortzfield can be reached at bbortzfield@wjct.org or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.