Mayor Curry Still Confident City Can Host Safe RNC Amid Sheriff’s Security Concerns

Jul 21, 2020

Despite Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams saying the security plans for August’s Republican National Convention have reached “a point of no return,” Mayor Lenny Curry said Tuesday he still believes the city can host the large scale event in a safe manner.

“Yes, I agree with [Sheriff Williams],” Curry said on Williams’ assessment that the city isn’t ready for the event. “However, he also communicated that he's continuing to work with the planners to configure this in a way that's safe and to get the resources that he needs.” 

Curry said nothing the sheriff noted on Monday surprised him, and that the mayor’s office has been discussing these issues with the sheriff’s office for weeks. 

“We will collaborate with all partners - health experts, law enforcement, and more - to ensure that any event maintains a healthy and safe environment for citizens and guests,” Curry said.

On Monday, Williams said he had major concerns about JSO’s ability to handle the event in a safe manner with a little less than a month to go. “I've penned-to-paper on not one contract, not one piece of procurement. Nothing we need is in route," the sheriff said.

The mayor stressed he wouldn’t compromise on safety. “ Since taking office, and before I was elected, I made it clear that public safety is my top priority and should be the top priority of any government at any level,” Curry said.

Williams wasn’t at Tuesday morning’s media briefing, but JSO Undersheriff Pat Ivey fielded questions on the challenges of getting proper security measures for the RNC.

“We are not doing anything out of the ordinary,” Ivey said. “The only thing we are doing out of the ordinary is a timeline in which no one has ever had to deal with.”

Ivey said law enforcement in Charlotte was sharing information with JSO, and the department was getting feedback from Tampa, which served as the host city for the 2012 RNC. 

Asked if there will be any federal law enforcement needed for the events, Curry said there’s been no discussion for that need.

“Our local law enforcement, our sheriff and his team made it very clear that that wasn't going to be tolerated, so we as a city are not facing the things some other cities are facing that have just let violence run rampant,” Curry said. 

When Curry initially said the RNC would be coming to Jacksonville, he noted that it would provide $100 million in economic impact for local businesses and hotels who were struggling during the pandemic. Duval County GOP Chairman Dean Black called that figure “modest”.

However, that number most likely won’t be met because of recent downsizing of the event.

“I think it's clear that there wouldn't be that kind of economic activity with a scale-back. However, it's also clear that businesses would experience success because of this, hotel rooms would would fill up, so there would be positive economic impact on the local economy and on local businesses,” Curry said.

Asked if it’s a good allocation of resources to task JSO with RNC security while city-wide homicides are up from last year, Ivey said it’s something they’re used to.

“We're always going to have the investigative resources in our plan that are going to make sure that we have what we need to cover, which is our bread and butter, our day-to-day, every single day, providing safety and security for this community,” Ivey said. “The RNC is what the extra thing is, we're not going to let it pull away from us keeping this community safe to the best of our ability.”

Ivey also said comparing the security measures taken for an RNC versus a Jacksonville Jaguars game is “apples to oranges,” especially because there have been changes to where the event will take place.

“That personnel number - I don't have the exact number - but it's in the thousands that we asked for, which is right on point with other jurisdictions that have had this exact event four years ago, eight years ago, 12 years ago. We're not inventing the wheel here,” Ivey said. 

Regarding COVID-19, the mayor said he is “cautiously optimistic” after speaking with local health leaders over the phone Tuesday.

“While this is a positive sign, we should remain vigilant, cautious and take the responsible actions to slow the spread of this disease,” Curry said.

Curry said the local surge in cases appears to be stabilizing, and that there have been some downward trends in some local facilities. The positivity rate remains at 10.5%, according to Curry.

At the time of this story’s publication there were 17,544 COVID-19 cases in Duval County with 105 deaths.

Sky Lebron can be reached at slebron@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.