JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Several business owners suing the city of Jacksonville and the Republican National Committee said they’re focused on protecting the community.
The Republican National Convention coming to Jacksonville in August amid rising COVID-19 cases is setting fire to a national debate about whether it’s safe to hold a convention during the pandemic.
Wednesday, a group of business owners and attorneys filed a lawsuit against the city and the convention’s organizers, demanding major changes to keep the public safe.
“It hit my family hard, and I don’t wanna see that happening here at Jacksonville,” said Dexter Van Davis, a plaintiff and attorney.
Van Davis said his 78-year-old brother-in-law died from the coronavirus and another family member was on a ventilator for two months in the intensive care unit.
He’s among seven business owners filing suit, demanding changes before President Donald Trump and other top party leaders take the stage.
“This has the opportunity to be devastating for our community, and most all of us now are being touched by this virus personally and a variety of ways,” said Jack Meeks, a business owner and Springfield resident.
The suit, filed in circuit court, is demanding a judge put serious restrictions on the upcoming convention, which could bring tens of thousands of visitors from all over to the River City. Attorneys Craig Gibbs and WC Gentry are working the cause pro-bono. They said, if they win, no one will be awarded any money. They are hoping for a hearing before a circuit judge in the next few weeks.
“We would not file it if we did not think it has a chance to get an order enjoining this convention or making the participants follow the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines,” Gibbs said.
One of the compromises would be changing the main venue. VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena is indoors, but the plaintiffs claim there is the possibility of moving to the 121 Financial Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville or TIAA Bank Field right across the street.
The suit also demands mandatory masks, social distancing and other safety guidelines.
“We know that if in fact this convention is carried on in the way that we know they expect you, with putting thousands of people into the arena and plus proximity indoors, that we will have an absolute catastrophe here in Jacksonville,” Gentry said.
However, GOP committee members, like U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz, assure News4Jax the events will be safe and help the economy.
“They’re working out the details as we speak, but there will be testing for all convention-goers,” Waltz said in a Zoom interview. “And that is extremely significant, that’s from the media to the delegates to the vendors.”
The plaintiffs and attorneys said the suit is not politically motivated and is not anti-Trump. Gentry, among others, is a registered Republican.
“I don’t think COVID-19 cares about whether you are a Republican or a Democrat or independent,” Van Davis said. “It hits everybody. In my opinion, it’s not political.”
A spokesperson for the city of Jacksonville said they couldn’t comment because this is an active legal case. So far, the president has not responded to the suit.