Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
San Antonio City Council members were cautioned Wednesday against discussing the politics of hosting the 2020 Republican National Convention when they meet in closed session Thursday.
Meanwhile, Gov. Greg Abbott, in town for a Tricentennial event, said during his visit that he would “love to see” his party's national gathering here in two years.
After the governor delivered a proclamation in celebration of the 300th anniversary of the city’s founding, he spoke to the Rivard Report about whether the city should pursue hosting the convention. “I think it would be great for San Antonio and great for Texas and great for the United States,” Abbott said.
Local business and industry leaders recently have stoked debate about a possible City bid to host the Republican National Convention. During the executive session scheduled for Thursday afternoon, the City Council will weigh in on whether to offer economic incentives should it proceed with a convention hosting bid.
But their closed-door discussions are strictly limited. City Attorney Andrew Segovia said in a letter to the full Council that members could not discuss the political pros and cons of a possible convention bid when it meets in executive session Thursday. Topics legally allowed for discussion during closed sessions include personnel matters, litigation, and economic development issues such as competitive bids.
The City Attorney's letter was sealed under attorney-client privilege, said Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6), who requested the opinion and relayed the information to the Rivard Report.
“There will be no political discussion regarding Donald Trump, and that’s exactly what I wanted to ensure,” said Brockhouse. “There will be no political discussion or discussions on the political ramifications of Donald Trump being here. It’s off limits.”
Mayor Ron Nirenberg and City leadership have faced mounting pressure from local business community members to bid for the quadrennial GOP nominating convention.
Trump’s 2020 campaign manager – and part-time San Antonian – Brad Parscale has criticized Nirenberg in a series of tweets for not taking steps to bid on hosting the convention.
City leaders who oppose pursuing the bid say hosting the event could have economic repercussions for San Antonio. They fear hosting the convention will spur political backlash from Mexico and drive away shopping and tourism from Mexican nationals.
The specter of violent street protests also has been raised in arguments against pursuing the bid.
Should San Antonio host the convention, Abbott said he would deploy the Texas Rangers to safeguard against violence.
“We believe in law and order and safety and security,” Abbott said. “We’ll make sure it’s the safest place in America.”
Four local business leaders – billionaire philanthropist Red McCombs, former State Sen. John Montford, International Bank of Commerce CEO and Board Chairman Dennis Nixon, and IBC Senior Vice President Eddie Aldrete — vowed on Tuesday to raise $60 million to $65 million to launch a bipartisan bid to host the convention. Historically, the host city and county have each contributed between $2 million and $3 million to the overall cost of the convention, according to the letter. The rest of the funds, they said, would come from the private sector.
In a separate letter of support for a local convention bid, a coalition of 14 leaders in the business community urged City Council to make a good-faith effort to host the GOP gathering.
"Any convention of this magnitude would bring sales, economic growth, and massive exposure to San Antonio," reads the letter, signed by – among others – SWBC President Gary Dudley, AT&T Chairman Emeritus Ed Whitacre, and businesswoman and former Texas Workforce Commissioner Hope Andrade. "There is no crystal globe to know what the political landscape will be in 2020, but we are confident if protests arise, our law enforcement is well trained and will coordinate with state and federal law enforcement. This is a good and fiscally sound decision."
Nirenberg said he would not support a national convention bid that would cost taxpayers.
“I’ve said all along I do not believe a public subsidy is prudent for a political convention whether it’s Democrat or Republican,” Nirenberg said. “My feelings on that have not changed.”
Preferring to wait until Thursday’s briefing, Nirenberg declined to comment on whether he would support a mostly privately funded bid.
Although the convention would benefit the city economically – bringing in thousands of visitors who would spend hundreds of millions of dollars – opponents argue that hosting the event, where Trump may be re-nominated as the Republican Party's presidential candidate, would be insulting to the city's majority Hispanic population and bring with it unwanted attention.
Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff (Pct. 3), the lone Republican on the five-member commissioners court, said Wednesday that the convention would bring positive economic impacts in more ways than hotel reservations. He said the convention would bring 12,000 to 15,000 members of the media.
"You're getting broadcast all over the world," Wolff said. "We're always out there trying to put ourselves higher on the radar screen. We're going to be part of the center stage; you can't buy that kind of media."
He added that the city could expect to rake in over $180 million in economic activity from the convention, which would also bring in CEOs of Fortune 500 companies who would see firsthand what San Antonio offers.
Fellow Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) argued that hosting the convention would negatively affect the city. He organized a coalition of 30 residents and activists Wednesday who reject the idea of the President having his "re-coronation" in San Antonio.
"I would actually be for a Republican convention in San Antonio, but not with this President at the top of the ticket, and his disrespectful rhetoric," Calvert said.
Calvert said that hosting the convention would threaten the $644 million he says Mexican nationals spend on travel and leisure in the city. In 2012, residents of Mexico spent $398 million in the metropolitan area on, among other things, lodging, dining, and clothing, according to a SABÉR Research Institute report.
He also warned that San Antonio would be the "epicenter of the American political civil war" drawing "outside leftist militant forces, violent ones" into the city.
The event, held inside the Bexar County Courthouse, caught Parscale's attention when Calvert told the crowd that Trump's campaign manager believed the convention would be "one of the biggest food and catering events in the history of the city."
"But who do you think is cooking the food? Who do you think is going to be serving the food?" Calvert said during the press conference. That triggered a social media response from Parscale.
Can't believe that a San Antonio elected official, Phony Tommy Calvert, said that food would be poisoned for Republicans in San Antonio. The San Antonians I know would never do that. Democrats should immediately ask for his resignation for promoting poisoning of people. Horrible!
— Brad Parscale (@parscale) May 2, 2018
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff told the Rivard Report that it's the City's sole decision on whether to submit a bid to host the convention. The County may provide security with Bexar County Sheriff's Deputies if requested, Wolff said.