Mayor Lenny Curry decided he wanted to put Jacksonville on the map – the pandemic hotspot map, that is. When Charlotte demanded that the Republican National Convention adhere to common-sense measures designed to limit the spread of illness, Curry sprung in to action and began lobbying the GOP to move the events here to Jacksonville. He promised a more casual approach to the pandemic, implying we could fill a 15,000 seat arena without having to worry about things like masks and social distancing.
It was pitched as an economic boost at the time local business needed it most. But what if it turned out to be a headache and nightmare rolled in to one?
When Jacksonville was announced as the new location for the event, there was celebration. At least for a day or two, before reality kicked back in.
Part of proving that Jacksonville was ready for the convention was abandoning most of the progress we’d made in reducing the spread of the coronavirus. When the lock downs eased and reopening began, we started to almost immediately see the rise of a second wave of infections.
Intent on proceeding at full steam ahead, this wasn’t matched with stricter controls. Instead, every opportunity to backtrack was met with another step toward reopening. As a result, we’re just now hitting our highest infection numbers here in mid July.
Hits close to home
The mayor, in particular, had a pretty glib attitude toward the pandemic. Right up until it affected him personally.
About two weeks ago, Mayor Curry announced he and his family would be isolating themselves in quarantine for a few weeks. After missing several press conferences, he finally admitted that someone they’d spent time with recently had tested positive. While there’s no news on the Mayor or his family’s health status, it was pretty clear that being personally impacted changed his views on the situation.
Not long after that, Curry announced that masks would be mandatory for indoor locations in Jacksonville. This didn’t sit well with out of state RNC organizers who wanted a regulation-free convention. It also didn’t sit well with local Fox News reporters who threatened to sue the mayor over his order: they claimed that he doesn’t have the legal authority to create such a rule without city council approval. For once, the mayor took the ride side of the issue and implored that anyone listening just wear the mask already.
Lawsuit alleges nuisance
A group of downtown residents and business owners got together earlier in the month to attempt to stop the convention, legally. Their lawsuit alleges that the event will create conditions amounting to a nuisance and threat to public health. Nuisance ordinances have been used to shut down several events in the Jacksonville area, and having it come from the very business leaders and lawyers who once supported the local GOP is quite telling.
If the petitioner’s aren’t able to completely stop the convention, they’d at least like to see it scaled back and conducted a little more carefully. They’re asking that if the event can’t be canceled, that it should at least be limited to 2,500 mask-wearing visitors in the main arena.
In response, GOP organizers started talking about moving parts of the event outdoors. There are obviously problems with having a large outdoor event in late August, but I’m sure the locals already knew that.
Further complicating the event is the fact that the sheriff is publicly questioning whether or not the city can handle the required security. There’s speculation that he’s just trying to insure his department gets the cut of the budget they want, but his concerns are also being cited in the lawsuit being brought against the organizers.
Organizers quickly responded again – this time assuring the sheriff and city that the DOJ had a large security grant available to assist with safety costs. Of course, that can’t go simply either: the DOJ informed the city council that they’d need to create a new, temporary ordinance that limits protests to a small, fenced in, and distant location. All protests would have to end by 6 p.m., as well. Critics and the city council president balked.
Unanswered questions and the aftermath
Why should citizens of Jacksonville give up their rights to peacefully assemble so that the police could earn a larger payday?
Why are we bringing people in to town in the middle of a deadly pandemic?
Why are our politicians more concerned about throwing a party for Trump, than they are about the safety and health of our citizens?
Far from the $100 million economic benefit the mayor originally claimed, it looks like VIPs are staying at out of town hotels and a large number of attendees have declared they’re not even going.
With the security bill unpaid and the risk of resulting illness rising, it looks like a bad deal for the city from every angle.