Citing Costs and ‘Disruptions,’ Nirenberg Says San Antonio Will Not Pursue 2020 GOP Convention

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Mayor Ron Nirenberg.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Mayor Ron Nirenberg

After San Antonio City Council members discussed possible economic incentives for, and the impacts of, hosting the 2020 Republican National Convention during a closed-door meeting Thursday, Mayor Ron Nirenberg and at least four Council members agreed that the costs of hosting the GOP convention outweighed the benefits.

City Council members said the discussion was limited to fiscal and logistical concerns as required by state rules for such executive sessions.

But that didn't stop many from voicing their personal political opinions outside formal meetings. Some said they based their decision on financial and security analyses presented to them; others said they simply would not welcome a convention that supports President Donald Trump and his "divisive" administration.

Several industry, business, and community leaders lobbied Council to put the city's proverbial hat in the ring and pursue the convention that Republican National Committee officials had said could draw an estimated 40,000 people to San Antonio and generate $200 million in economic impact.

"We had very clear rules of engagement on this conversation," Nirenberg told reporters after the meeting. "We did not discuss partisan political views at all. Objectively speaking, while the economic impacts proposed are eye-opening, there is a reason why the City of San Antonio has not bid on a political convention of this nature in 20 years, and why so few cities in this country see that this season is even worth it."

Nirenberg cited concerns about "disruptions" to traffic, infrastructure, neighborhoods, and "life in San Antonio" that protests could cause. The in-kind or otherwise public resources required to host the convention is not an investment San Antonians should have to make, he said.

The RNC request for proposals calls for a "fundraising plan" to cover the convention's $70 million price tag. A local group of business leaders pledged to raise most of the money required, but Nirenberg said the City still would incur costs through its transportation and police departments.

The decision would have been the same had the Democratic National Convention asked for a bid, Nirenberg said. "Politics were left out of the conversation. ... I have no interest in [the DNC] either."

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) called the decision to step out of the running a missed opportunity.

"It's another stunning lack of leadership from Mayor Nirenberg," Brockhouse said. "We have all the means possible to pick up this type of political convention. I think the point needs to be made we just came off a fantastic NCAA Final Four – there was massive disruption in the city with that, and we pulled it off 100 percent."

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) proposes cuts to the budget during B Session.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6)

Brockhouse agreed that the city attorney kept a short leash on the political comments but said nothing was discussed during the closed-door meeting that could not have been discussed in a public meeting.

"This is what's wrong with City Hall," he said. "When we do these things in executive session – we do them with an attorney. We can't come out and tell you what people really feel."

Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) agreed. "We should have focused on supporting our political system whether Republican or Democrat," he wrote in a statement after the meeting. "I am frustrated with [Council] being kept in the dark."

Executive sessions do not feature a council "vote;" rather, members indicate their position and a consensus is reached. The Rivard Report polled Council members to find out whether they thought the city should submit a bid to host the Republican National Convention.

  • Mayor Ron Nirenberg: No. (See above.)
  • Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1): No. "The fiscal benefit of hosting the current administration’s Republican National Convention in San Antonio does not outweigh the tremendous respect we have for our cultural heritage," he said during his State of the Center City Address on Tuesday.
  • Councilman Cruz Shaw (D2): No. "Councilman Shaw was most concerned with what the economic impact would look like," a spokesperson said after the meeting Thursday. "He has been looking at this from a business perspective, not a political perspective."
  • Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3): Maybe. Not included in the overall cost estimate were what Viagran referred to as “ancillary” costs of hosting the event, such as capital improvements needed, overtime for San Antonio Police Department officers, waste management, and emergency operations. “I wanted to know the true cost that may not be part of an RFP, but they are going to be part of our budget that we as a council have to budget for in the future,” she said after the meeting.
  • Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4): No. "One week of economic boost two years from now does not [override] all of the feelings that my constituents have," he said. "The fact that our president has gone out of his way to personally offend so many residents who I represent and personally offend .... folks who are transexual or Dreamers or disabled – the list goes on – it's been very difficult to say yes to this and controversial because the president has made it so."
  • Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5): Maybe. "We just didn't have enough information to proceed, and there was not really a consensus," she said. "We still had a lot of unanswered questions [about the cost and benefits], and it seems like the City staff didn't have a lot of answers."
  • Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6): Yes. (See above.)
  • Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7): No. “I am concerned there would be long-term negative economic impacts if this event were hosted here. When I look at the short-term benefits, to me it just doesn’t outweigh that risk," she said. “This could be a very divisive event. Not only because of the way San Antonio voters swing, but also because of the current image that the RNC is presenting right now.
  • Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8): Unknown. Pelaez was not available for an interview and did not produce a statement by time of publication.
  • Councilman John Courage (D9): Maybe. “I believe in the freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly,” he said. “Whatever they decide to do is up to them." Asked whether the same level of scrutiny would be applied to a bid for a Democratic National Convention, Courage said, “Absolutely, I would think so.”
  • Councilman Clayton Perry (D10): Yes. (See above.)

The Republican National Committee reached out to the City of San Antonio in early December, according to numerous sources, and started coordinating with Visit San Antonio in February to explore the logistics. According to a Visit San Antonio official, the city has the capacity to host the thousands of visitors in terms of hotel rooms, and it doesn't overlap with any other major event at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in August 2020.

The original deadline for the request for proposals to host the event was Feb. 28, but that date was not set in stone, according to an RNC official.

“We don’t have a deadline, we have timelines," Ron Kaufman, a Republican National Committee member who heads the convention site selection committee, told the Rivard Report recently. "We’re earlier than normal with our timelines … If San Antonio really wants the bid, of course [they can submit.]”

He declined to say how many cities have submitted bids to host the GOP national gathering. “Until a city says they want to go public, that’s their call."

In a memo to his fellow Council members last week, Nirenberg said he first learned in late March that San Antonio was still one of several cities the RNC was interested in. He planned to have the full Council briefed on March 28.

"However, prior to that date, I was informed that the GOP opted not to pursue a bid from San Antonio. As such, no further discussions occurred” until Trump's campaign manager Brad Parscale emailed him Monday, April 23, Nirenberg wrote.

Several local business leaders and industry association leaders have flatly denied that local Republicans opposed making a bid, as Nirenberg has said.

Parscale, a part-time San Antonian who co-owned a local website design and digital communications firm, then unleashed a series of tweets that were critical of Nirenberg's inaction toward hosting the convention last week. Those tweets continued Thursday after word reached Parscale that Council declined to pursue. "City Council just made the business community their enemy. Have fun with that."

A dozen other business and industry organizations, including the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, the South San Antonio Chamber, the San Antonio Hotel & Lodging Association, and the San Antonio Restaurant Association, were filing letters similar to one penned by prominent local businessmen last week.

“This is not a political decision, but an economic one,” International Bank of Commerce CEO and Board Chairman Dennis Nixon, IBC Senior Vice President Eddie Aldrete, billionaire philanthropist Red McCombs, and former Democratic State Sen. John Montford wrote. “We ask the City Council to stay the course on what is best – and right – for the City of San Antonio and be reminded of what makes our city so beloved – a welcoming city with open arms and a community of diverse backgrounds that serves as a haven where all ideologies and backgrounds have an opportunity to be voiced and heard.

“We cannot let politics get in the way of our city’s growth and economic opportunity. Leadership Matters!”

Ramiro Cavazos, president and CEO of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, told the Rivard Report Thursday that the chamber isn't taking an official position.

"We've done well for 300 years without a Republican or a Democratic convention," Cavazos said. "We love the tourism and hospitality industry but this is not going to make or break a year for us. We're concerned with the amount of dollars that would have to be raised locally that would impact local nonprofits. This kind of money, we should put into other things in the community that are more foundational – not a three-day convention where we potentially divide people more in our country."

Asked if he would feel the same way about the Democratic convention, he said, "exactly the same way."

San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ramiro Cavazos

San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ramiro Cavazos

"Our focus should be industries like aerospace, manufacturing, automotive, bioscience – not hosting a three-day convention that is going to potentially be divisive and paint San Antonio in a negative light based on the rhetoric that we're seeing coming out of Washington from both parties."

A source inside the business community who asked to remain anonymous told the Rivard Report that this decision was reminiscent of Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff's unilateral decision to pull out of the running for internet giant Amazon's second headquarters in October 2017.

"The business community feels burned and hung out to dry," the source said. "The mayor failed to bid on Amazon and failed to bid on this convention, and business leaders feel as if our city is adrift at sea."

On Thursday, Kaufman said he felt sorry for locals who put time and effort into San Antonio's bid.

"It would have been a great proposal. It’s a great city and has a lot to offer. We’re in the process of selecting a city and have many other places to go, and we’ll move on,” Kaufman said. "We were overwhelmed with the amount of support that came from San Antonio – letters and phone calls – very impressive.

"The leaders decided to lead in a different direction, and the mayor and council had to decide what they thought was best for San Antonio, which is their right. I’d be less than honest if I didn’t say, to quote an old song, ‘I left my heart in San Antonio.’ People were terrific.”

 

Editor-in-Chief Beth Frerking and reporters Jeff Sullivan and JJ Velasquez contributed to this report.

 

39 thoughts on “Citing Costs and ‘Disruptions,’ Nirenberg Says San Antonio Will Not Pursue 2020 GOP Convention

  1. Wow – 2nd biggest mistake after passing on Amazon HQ2. If I ever hear “world class city” uttered by these communists on city council, it will just be the icing on the cake.

  2. Great decision. This shows good leadership to pay attention to the cost benefits. The Parscale response perfectly shows what we have thankfully missed. Being blamed for all of their failures if there were any cost gaps in funding, or protest responses, and being left with nothing but clean up costs and that it wasnt ever good enough.
    San Antonio dodged a black eye. Definitely makes no economic sense as a tourist convention town. We need to be protective of our image as a welcoming family friendly destination.

    • EXACTLY. San Antonio has not pursued either convention in over 20 years, primarily because the economic numbers don’t work. Add the bullying tweets by Parscale, and it seemed to me that a trap was being set – any PERCEIVED mistake and blame would have been placed on us. Council protected our city’s brand yesterday. We don’t want to start down the slippery slope of paying tens of millions of dollars to convince conventions to come to SA (and no, I do not consider investing in facility improvements for the NCAA to be the same)

  3. “a welcoming city with open arms and a community of diverse backgrounds that serves as a haven where all ideologies and backgrounds have an opportunity to be voiced and heard.”

    except if you are white and on the right!

    • Or a fiscal conservative and social liberal! My color is inconsequential.
      The political system in SA is no different than what we currently have in DC, just leans differently. When will the extremist see how similar they are?

    • Ditto to what Sue Donym stated – Money is not the most important thing in the world. Parscale and his types only care about the almighty dollar that is why he sold his soul to work with Trump.

    • Charles Barkley is right. We really are a podunk town. They all need to be recalled for putting their political biases ahead of the good of the city. Just keep tearing down statues and coloring our crosswalks in rainbow colors. Forget the serious ambitions, and put that Sleeping Mexican cartoon back on Mission Drive-In.

      • ^Henry’s comment^ And this right here, folks is exactly why telling the GOP convention and its hatemongering crowd to go elsewhere was a good decision.
        Grow up, and accept that minorities and different people live among you and deserve respect.

      • They’re spending more to redo the front of city hall to make it fully accessible. That won’t bring the city a penny. The amount the city would have to put in for the convention was negligible. It was a purely political decision.

        • As a white male I’m in the minority here and my opinion at City Hall counts for less than bubkes.

    • Security and cleanup are taken care of and paid for by the RNC/DNC. Charles Barkley is right. We really are a podunk town. They all need to be recalled for putting their political biases ahead of the good of the city. Just keep tearing down statues and coloring our crosswalks in rainbow colors. Forget the serious ambitions, and put that Sleeping Mexican cartoon back on Mission Drive-In.
      This is the stuff of divisiveness.
      Brockhouse for Mayor!

      • Neither the DNC nor RNC pay for the hours of planning and the actual effort and costs associated with a mass casualty event affecting San Antonians and visitors.
        My fear is that a National Political Convention will increase the potential for such a horror.

    • Untrue. We just reserve the right to welcome businesses and conventions that align more to our values of economic and social profitability for all partners.

      Let’s say it together: Begone all political conventions. You’re not welcome.

      • And what are “our” values? Down with Whitey! Down with conservatives! Down with anyone who does not toe the Progressive Line right over the cliff.

    • Do you even know how event planning happens??!! The GOP can pick San Antonio if they want to. The city (and tax payers) just arent going to bid to foot the bill to be ridiculed if ANYTHING is perceived to be “wrong” hapoens, as well as tarnishing our brand as family friendly and welcoming place to visit.

      There is a reason charlotte is the only bidder. They have to make up for the paat econonic disaster pushed on them by their state government.

    • Geez! It would seem that a convention of say, Insurance Executives is the same as a national political convention. Is that your comment? Wow! Could life really be that simple? Obviously not. This city does and has welcomed business and association conventions. Our city government has the responsibility to look at the cost and the long term benefits or liabilities of any action. They have acted. Why whine and hang crepe?

  4. I’m not sure if Parscales taught Trump of vice versa on how to be childish on Twitter? Shouldn’t Paracales be more involved in FLORIDA politics where he moved most of his multi media “advisory” business and took JOBS AWAY from San Antonio? Why would anyone intelligent listen to him?

    Once again, our ELECTED Mayor has included City Council and made a non partisan decision for the good of all San Antonio residents after getting all the facts instead of blinding quoting something he found on the internet.

    I am pretty sure that Councilman Brockhouse is quite simply a contrarian that someday will be on top of a wood box in front of the Alamo screaming at anyone that doesn’t agree with his personal opinion.

  5. I am disappointed the cost estimates did not include those “ancillary costs” Councilwoman Viagran mentioned. Maybe it’s not possible to even conjure ’em up, but the above timeline suggests we didn’t try very hard.

    Still, I am glad our leaders said “No” overall, and I thank Councilmen Perry and Brockhouse for their opinions.

  6. Is what I read recently true: That should SA host the RNC, then the convention center would need to be closed for a number of weeks prior to the convention in preparation for it. If so, that alone would cause much lost revenue from other conventions & events that could not be hosted in SA during those weeks. Several weeks of lost convention income surely would be sizable. Was that figured into the balance sheet?

  7. I experienced the 1984 GOP Convention in Dallas. Frankly, the cost to the city was much greater than any perceived benefit. The delegates did not spend much money in Dallas since they were either busy with the convention or attending all the various parties that went on during the week. Don’t believe the hype about any monetary benefit to the city because there is none.

    • Weren’t the parties catered and serviced by local businesses? Didn’t they benefit? Attendees don’t have to go out to benefit the local economy.

  8. As I read the replies and the story related, there are two words that come to mind…. rationalization and/or justification. Both sides are guilty. We are ALL guilty. We have our “informed” opinions and we search diligently for means to make our options the “best” opinion.
    Those who voted against the RNC possibility have spent a lifetime looking at education, discrimination, and removing their second class citizenship. For them to say, “business is right” would be against their whole lives values.
    Those who voted for the RNC possibility have different measures. They want to be seen as the city with it all together, regardless of who comes to town. They want to be able to look the other way when someone says something about morals and/or disregard for those with whom you disagree.
    We all want unity. Our city is a best in many ways. Yet, literacy remains a problem we think hoping will cause it to be cured. The disparity in wages is another problem with no easy cures. Name calling doesn’t work. Coming together to face the issues does.

    • San Antonio doesnt need to pay a bully to tarnish our image. The RNC is free to choose San Antonio if they pay for it themselves. What happened to the free market???!!

  9. Good for the Mayor and the Council. Not spending taxpayer dollars to help host anyone’s political convention will not hurt us one bit. If we really want to boost the city’s future, we should be investing in the things that really make a world-class city: transportation, infrastructure, housing, education and culture. Not chasing opportunities to help fund and support the ventures of private businesses that are more than capable of paying their own way.
    For people complaining about us not pursuing Amazon’s HQ2: first off, you’re delusional if you think SA ever had a chance for HQ2. We haven’t gotten our infrastructure or our educational levels anywhere near high enough to convince a company like Amazon to build anything but warehouses here. Invest in infrastructure and education instead of tax breaks for conventions, and maybe someday we’d have a shot. But why would we even want it? Amazon and their ilk expect cities to hand over massive incentives and tax breaks for the pleasure of driving traffic through the roof, and destroying affordability. Do we really want to become the next Seattle or San Francisco or Austin? As a former Austinite, I can tell you from experience: be careful what you wish for.
    As for Brad sub-Parscale, when he can be bothered to stop imitating Trump on Twitter while moving jobs to Florida and denigrating our city, then maybe we’ll care what he has to say.
    As for sponsoring *any* party’s convention: why bring the cost, negative attention and possible chaos to our doors? We are doing pretty well right now without them. And if the “business community” wants a convention so badly, pay for it yourselves. We citizens pay for what we want; you can too.
    I am so tired of self-appointed experts saying San Antonio needs to offer wealthy private interests the keys to our coffers to make this a great city. San Antonio is already a great city. And it would be even greater if we spent our money on our city itself, and not to enrich the business elite and the wealthy few through immoral tax breaks and incentives.

  10. This city has so many problems that need to be addressed, the last thing we need to do is show off a city that is unable or unwilling to solve these problems. San Antonio is not ready for the big time. I disagree that there should be any concern regarding the divisive nature of hosting a political convention here. Our populace, is in fact, too complacent to react in any manner to any significant event or issue.

  11. I don’t understand why Parscale has credible voice with the RNC. He is under investigation for election fraud, campaign fraud, & in a Russian conspiracy to undermine our election process. He’s one of trump’s chief propagandists. When 2020 rolls around I’m betting he’ll be in prison…where he, & the rest of the mob belongs.

  12. First Mayor Nirenberg was the only mayor in the country to say “go away” t0 Amazon and its 50,000 good paying jobs, then the city lost hundreds of jobs and loss 0f several comporate headquarters like Rackspace, CST Corporation, C.H. Gunther and Son and Andeavor. Now the Mayor and Council “go away” to the huge Republican Convention and its tourism dollars. He still has not mentioned where the beloved Hemisfair entrance sign went nor what happened to the Travis Park monument, but the Mayor found $20 million for Hardberger’s infamous dog park bridge. Where are the Mayor’s promise of “70,000 jobs” at the recent State of the City speech going to come from? Sounds like a believer in European style of Socialism.

  13. Respect for Culture left the station a long time ago. We now even have a National Holiday for a person that fought hard to keep our own US Hispanic families in the fields. A person that called Mexican Nationals legally working in US agricultural fields, “Wetbacks.” Yes I too reluctantly followed blindly but when I saw footage that he carrying a club threatened fellow beings, I had to stop lying to myself that he stood for Civil Rights. Now people throughout our Nation want to be politically correct and don’t want to offend so private and taxpayer monies are used to celebrate a selective Civil Rights hero.

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