Scott Ball / Rivard Report
A bipartisan quartet of San Antonio business leaders, including billionaire philanthropist Red McCombs and former Democratic State Sen. John Montford, on Tuesday asked Mayor Ron Nirenberg and City Council to put politics aside and bid on the 2020 Republican National Convention.
In a three-page letter delivered to the mayor late Tuesday afternoon, McCombs and Montford, along with International Bank of Commerce CEO and Board Chairman Dennis Nixon, and IBC Senior Vice President Eddie Aldrete, pledged to help raise from private and corporate sources the $60 million to $65 million the Republican National Committee will require from the host city.
The group also called for a bipartisan host committee to help plan and oversee San Antonio’s participation should the City submit and secure a bid to host the Republicans’ national gathering.
“We are committed to helping raise the necessary funds for this convention, along with a bipartisan host committee – and we urge the City Council to move forward in submitting a bid for this national convention,” the four businessmen wrote.
Nirenberg and the City Council have come under increasing pressure from San Antonio’s business community to bid on the GOP convention. President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, former San Antonio businessman and digital media specialist Brad Parscale, sparked public knowledge of the issue when he launched a tweet storm against Nirenberg for not immediately supporting a bid, calling him “weak-kneed Ron.”
The letter by the four businessmen outlined a timeline of the RNC’s outreach to San Antonio officials. It noted the initial letter to Nirenberg by the Republican National Committee dated Dec. 8, 2017; discussions between RNC and Visit San Antonio officials in February; and two March meetings between RNC representatives and local leaders, one on March 7 with business leaders (which sources said Nirenberg could not attend because he was away for another event); and a previously reported lunch meeting on March 23, which the mayor and numerous business and civic leaders attended, including former San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger.
Republican National Committeeman Ron Kaufman, who heads the RNC’s site selection committee, said Monday it wasn’t unusual for cities receiving the December letters to wait until after the holidays to respond. He said the RNC has allowed the bid submission timeline to slip so it can receive the best possible bids. (He declined to say which cities have submitted or will submit hosting bids, except for Charlotte, North Carolina, which has been named publicly.)
Sources close to Nirenberg reject suggestions made by local business leaders that he deliberately sat on RNC interest by delaying any response. Rather, they say, local Republicans signaled after the March 23 meeting they had little taste for bringing the convention to town – especially given San Antonio’s strong business ties with Mexico – until Parscale launched his tweet tirade against Nirenberg. But business leaders flatly reject that characterization.
Nirenberg was unavailable for comment Tuesday night. However, his spokesman, Bruce Davidson, said the mayor has asked City and Visit San Antonio staff to brief the Council during executive session Thursday on potential costs and economic gains of hosting a convention. The briefing also will focus on whether security costs – likely high given Trump’s sometimes polarizing presence – would be adequately covered by the federal government’s expected share of $50 million.
If the Council decides to take any action on the issue, it will do so in open session, Davidson said.
In addition to the letter by McCombs, Montford, Nixon, and Aldrete, a dozen other business and industry organizations are filing letters encouraging the City to make a play for the convention. Those include, among others, the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, the South San Antonio Chamber, the San Antonio Hotel & Lodging Association, and the San Antonio Restaurant Association.
Businesses and industry lobbying efforts come at a time when many local political leaders, including former Mayor Phil Hardberger, have made impassioned arguments against welcoming the GOP convention. They say Trump’s anti-immigrant and anti-Mexico rhetoric renders any financial gains paltry alongside how deeply offensive hosting the convention would be to area Latinos, who represent more than two-thirds of the city’s population.
However, McCombs, Montford, Nixon, and Aldrete flipped that argument on its head in pushing for the convention. The very act of hosting the Republican convention in a majority-minority city, they wrote, would demonstrate the city’s inclusiveness, open-mindedness, and diversity.
“This is not a political decision, but an economic one,” they 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!”
Montford, who served in the Texas Senate from 1983-1996 before eventually becoming a top executive at AT&T in San Antonio and, later, an advisor to General Motors, said in an interview with the Rivard Report on Tuesday night that he similarly would advise that the City bid to host the 2020 Democratic National Convention.
“I told them that I would sign it [the letter] as long as they would invite both parties,” Montford said. “It’s really, I guess, up to the mayor and council. I didn’t sign it to put pressure on anyone. I told them I’d expect us to issue the same invitation for the Democratic convention. To me it’s just a business opportunity.
“My own personal feeling is that it’s incumbent on the business community to raise the money. I would not want to spend any taxpayer dollars on this thing.”
And, he added, “my preference would be to extend identical invitations to both parties.”
Along with their general appeals, the four business leaders went through a lengthy list of considerations, as well as the bid invitation timeline. They also emphasized a new talking point, that in addition to possibly bringing $200 million in economic gains to the city, it will attract “C-suite” corporate executives who may otherwise be unfamiliar with San Antonio.
They also emphasized federal support for coverage of security costs. That point is one that especially concerns City officials, who worry that the federal government’s share of $50 million may not be enough, especially when any large gathering that is Trump-related likely will attract passionate protesters from around the country.
Davidson said those are the kinds of issues that the City Council will be briefed about in closed session on Thursday.
“The briefing will be conducted in executive session because that is standard operating procedure for the consideration of competitive economic development matters. Also, potentially sensitive security matters may be part of the discussion,” he said.
“In addition to the tens of millions of dollars that the local organizing committee would be required to raise, the city will incur security costs that possibly could exceed the amount covered by federal assistance,” Davidson said.
“Council will weigh all of those factors. If there is any action to be taken by Council, it will do so in open session,” which would take place next week at the earliest because of public notice requirements, he said.