Plan for RNC in Jacksonville faces challenges

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Plans to host the Republican National Convention in Jacksonville are running into some hurdles politically, legally and logistically.

This comes after reports from the Associated Press over the weekend that the fate of the RNC’s eventual destination will ultimately be decided by President Donald Trump.

One issue cropped up this weekend after a visit by Vice President Mike Pence. Pence met with organizers Saturday in a private setting in Jacksonville. Some of those in attendance told News4Jax that the meeting was essentially a chance for Pence to thank local organizers for their efforts.

“The Vice President came into town to obviously check on the progress of the Convention and certainly to give us encouraging words and to say how excited the President and the RNC are to come to Jacksonville to launch the campaign,” said State Rep. Cord Byrd, who was in attendance.

Byrd has drawn criticism on social media over a photo he posted from the event where he and other attendees are pictured in close contact with no masks in sight. Some critics pointed out the lack of masks in the photo he posted, saying things like, “You guys are the reason we’re never going to recover from this pandemic.”

Byrd is firing back at critics, contending that health was a priority at the gathering. In a phone interview with News4Jax he said, “We followed all safety protocols before we went in. We had our temperature taken.” He added there was social distancing when the vice president spoke and barriers in place. Byrd said the photo was taken once the event was over with a small group from Nassau County.

It’s unclear why Byrd and others weren’t wearing masks for the photo op, despite a city order requiring them to be worn indoors when social distancing isn’t possible.

Another issue the RNC faces is logistics. Reports surfaced late last week that the RNC was contemplating moving from inside VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena to outdoor venues. Some potential spots included Daily’s Place at TIAA Bank Field and the baseball stadium where the Jumbo Shrimp play.

News4Jax reached out to PRI Productions, which has produced large-scale events like this. PRI said the production of the event would be similar to events like Jaguars games or the Jacksonville Jazz Festival, which are also held outdoors.

Security would have to change considerably from an indoor event to an outdoor venue. News4Jax Crime and Safety Expert Ken Jefferson said securing an outdoor event would require much more police officers.

“You’re going to have to increase your manpower, maybe by 50 percent, maybe more,” Jefferson said. “But at the minimum, say you had 100 officers in the arena, you would need to have at least 150 officers at another venue to help out.”

Legal issues are another matter. Last week, News4Jax told you about a lawsuit filed against the convention’s organizers, calling the event a “nuisance injurious” to the public health of the city’s residents.

In an unrelated lawsuit but similar in nature, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of the city of Houston on Monday. The ruling gives Houston the ability to stop a state GOP convention from being held in person due to the public health threat from the coronavirus pandemic.

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