City Council President: Jacksonville dodged a bullet with RNC cancellation

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The revelation that the Republican National Convention isn’t coming anymore started to sink in on Friday.

Mayor Lenny Curry turned down interview requests from local media but decided to take his message national. In interviews with Fox News and CNN, Curry said he was disappointed but added that President Donald Trump’s announcement Thursday to cancel the event was the right choice.

“Up until a few days ago, there were still major events planned all over the city, expected people to be there. All the safety protocols in place, testing, we have a massive mandate in Jacksonville, we were all doing the right thing and we’re gonna do this in a safe way,” Curry said on Fox News. “But we said we’d monitor this and weeks leading up to it and the president made the right decision with the information we were communicating to him and his team.”

But in Jacksonville, City Council members and local businesses have questions and concerns.

Some have been planning since June for the RNC and had hoped the event would give them the boost needed to come back from the pandemic.

George Birnbaum is the founder and CEO of Gemstone Media, a video production company. He had been planning to make big bucks off the RNC and had been working for weeks lining up video shoots and locations for the event up until Thursday. Then Trump pulled the plug.

“My first thought was damn,” said Birnbaum. “We prepared ourselves to implement this project and then it goes away and we’ve been experiencing a lot of that this year.”

Birnbaum is far from alone.

Hotels restaurants and several hundred vendors all made plans and even set aside business to get ready for the convention. Now all of that is gone.

Some see it as a blessing that the huge crowds won’t be in Jacksonville. They were worried about health and safety issues.

On Friday the full City Council met to talk about what happened. The council president said the city dodged a bullet.

“We were certainly walking on thin ice the whole time, but we made it to the end of the pond. And I think it ended up, like I said, a happy ending for Republicans and Democrats and above all the citizens of Jacksonville,” said City Council President Tommy Hazouri.

The main concern from several council members Friday was the time and money spent by the city to court the RNC.

Members asked if that money would be reimbursed. The mayor’s office said no money was spent outright, but the city did pay for some police protection when Vice President Mike Pence was in town thanking the host committee two weekends ago.

Councilman Garrett Dennis said he wants to make sure in the future the city council would have some say in bringing events like the RNC to Jacksonville.

“To put the city on the hook without coming to council because we’re truly supposed to be one city, one government,” Dennis said. “But we were almost given the situation to give a blank check.”

But the fact that the convention was almost in Jacksonville is something businesses say could bode well for Jacksonville down the line.

“At least they made an attempt in an effort to try and pull something off quite frankly never been done before,” Birnbaum said.

Now the focus for the city council is the city budget and the effect that COVID-19 will have on the bottom line.

About the Author:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.