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Mayor, City Council Members Address RNC Vote Following Hateful Greenville Rally

City council members raise their hands in approval of a resolution to host the 2020 RNC at a special meeting on July 16, 2018. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

On Tuesday, the city reached the one-year anniversary of the infamous RNC vote, during which the Charlotte City Council voted 6-5 to host the Republican National Convention in Charlotte. The vote drew plenty of criticism from people who don’t want our city to give perhaps the most racist presidential administration of the modern era a platform to spew their hate, and more tangibly, fear the violence that may erupt during the convention at a time when political divides are at their most vitriolic. The issue is expected to play a big role in the upcoming city council elections.

The anniversary of the vote was given a new dark context on Wednesday night at a Trump rally in Greenville, when the president’s supporters began chanting “Send her back,” referring to U.S. Rep. Ihlan Omar, a Muslim Somali-American immigrant who represents the fifth congressional district of Minnesota. Trump had tweeted about Omar and three other women-of-color in the House of Representatives last week, stating that they should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” rather than criticize him.

Omar is the only one of the four women who was not born in the United States. Wednesday night’s chants were clearly spurred by Trump’s tweets, which have been a top news story since he posted them.

In light of the Greenville rally, which appears to give a preview of the type of speech and behavior that Charlotte will play host to at the RNC next year, Queen City Nerve reached out to the six city council members that voted to approve the RNC resolution, as well as Mayor Vi Lyles, who did not have a vote in the matter but was openly supportive of it.

We sent each person the same question over email and invited them to either respond with a statement or call to discuss the topic. The question was framed as follows: “It’s now been a full year since the vote to accept the Republican National Convention. Has there been a time since then, especially in the last week with what we’ve seen in regards to Donald Trump’s behavior toward progressive women of color in Congress and the chants from his crowd in Greenville on Wednesday night, that you have had regrets about your vote [or support in Lyles’ case] or felt as if you have laid out a welcome mat for a full week of similar behavior during the Republican National Convention in 2020?”

We heard back from four people that we reached out to: Mayor Lyles and council members Larken Egleston, Julie Eiselt and Greg Phipps, all Democrats. At the time of this writing, we have not yet heard from Democrat James Mitchell or Republicans Tariq Bokhari and Ed Driggs.

A Trump detractor and Trump supporter argue outside of last year’s city council vote. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Below are the statements or direct quotes from those we heard back from, unedited and uncut.

Mayor Vi Lyles, released a statement to the media on Friday morning addressing Wednesday’s rally and her feelings about the 2020 convention: 

Earlier this week when crowds at a Trump rally chanted “send her back,” in our own state, it was devastating to many of us, myself included. The behavior didn’t demonstrate the values of our country and added fuel to already tense political and racial relations. It also certainly didn’t represent the people of Charlotte.

As an inclusive city that welcomes all people, we open our doors to many, including those attending the RNC in 2020. However, the city of Charlotte is no place for racist or xenophobic hate speech, and we simply will not tolerate it. 

It’s my hope that members of all political parties are able to discuss, engage and debate without personal insults and degradation but with respect — which is the cornerstone of leadership and democracy. Only in this way can we truly embrace the diversity of our communities and our country. 

District 1 representative Larken Egleston called on Thursday afternoon to discuss his feelings a year after the vote and following Wednesday’s rally. Follow-up questions appear in bold:

I was repulsed by the tone of the rally and obviously, particularly, that there was chanting that Trump said today that he doesn’t agree with but he certainly didn’t seem to stop it in the moment. They were saying that an American citizen should be sent back to the country she came from. 

Queen City Nerve: How does that make you feel in regards to our city hosting the RNC?

To me, I didn’t make the vote I made last year based solely on my feelings about the president. I disliked the president then, I dislike the president now — as much if not more than I did then. To me that wasn’t a referendum on the president, because I’ve never supported him, I will never support him and that hasn’t changed. 

I don’t think that the hatefulness that we heard last night somehow implies that Greenville is a hateful place. People will come from all over to a rally in Greenville or a convention in Charlotte or whatever. If I remember correctly, Greenville was one of the communities where Hillary Clinton won pretty overwhelmingly, so like Charlotte, it’s a blue dot in a red sea [Clinton carried Pitt County by 7%, or nearly 6,000 vote]. So I don’t think that Trump’s values align with Greenville’s values anymore than Trump’s values align with Charlotte values. 

Queen City Nerve: So looking back now, do you regret your vote?

As far as regret goes, no one will be proven right or wrong as to whether this convention goes smoothly or not until after it’s come and gone. So I don’t think I can say that we were right in thinking that it’s going to go smoothly or that we were wrong, or that we should regret it or not regret it until we’re looking at it in hindsight. I think it’s the city’s job to make sure that it does go smoothly and that people here are safe whether they’re here to support the president or to protest the president — you know there will be both. I think that’s our role. I know none of the Democrats that voted for this convention in any way support the President, but again, we didn’t frame the vote in our minds as a referendum on Trump. 

Crowd members look on at last year’s vote. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

At-large city council member Julie Eiselt responded to our email on Thursday with the following statement: 

I believe that Charlotte is a city that is inclusive, accepting and welcoming to all people, even to those with whom we disagree. These are the values that great communities embrace. 

However, the behavior of the president, and his supporters who chanted “Send Her Back” at yesterday’s rally in Greenville, was quite simply reprehensible. I hope that members of the Republican Party who cherish the values that this country was founded upon, will not remain silent. 

At the end of the day, the test of our Democracy lies in our willingness to engage each other with dignity while challenging one another on issues that really matter, without harm or degradation.

District 4 representative Greg Phipps, who is not running for re-election, responded to our email on Friday with the following statement: 

While I find the President’s behavior and racist comments unacceptable, I do not as yet regret my vote to bring the RNC to Charlotte.  The vote passed by the slimmest of margins at 6 for and 5 against. If the vote were taken in today’s environment, it’s not unreasonable to think that a different vote outcome could be realized given the current climate and the President’s behavior.  
My biggest disappointment so far is the silence from the President’s own party to rebuke his comments in a manner that clearly separates his views from those committed to decency and civil discourse.

Democracy is bigger than one President or one Party.  It is the collective consensus of the American electorate on competing visions for our Nation regardless of party or political affiliation. My vote to support the RNC coming to Charlotte was based on my love for Democracy, and should not be seen as an endorsement of current Administration policy or its vision for America because it is not.

I do not believe we should shun Democracy out of fear of violence or disagreement.  We should be embracing it as a means to debate competing visions for our country in order to achieve a more united Nation and showcase Democracy to the world. I still believe it possible to do this despite the rantings by those who seek to undermine Democracy.


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