Jacksonville sheriff outlines ‘significant concerns’ over hosting RNC safely

Author: Paul LeBlanc / CNN
Balloons fall over the crowd as Donald Trump accepts the Republican Party’s nomination as presidential candidate, at the end of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. / AFP / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

Jacksonville, Florida, Sheriff Mike Williams said Monday he has “significant concerns with the viability” of his city hosting the Republican National Convention next month as coronavirus cases continue to surge in Florida.

“It is my sole responsibility to provide safety and security for our city and more importantly, for the citizens who I serve,” Williams said in a statement. “With a growing list of challenges — be it finances, communication and timeline — I cannot say with confidence that this event and our community will not be at risk.”

His list of concerns comes as the Republican National Committee pushes ahead with plans for a scaled-back national convention in August. The new plans will mean smaller crowds, fewer speeches and the use of indoor and outdoor venues in an attempt to salvage an in-person convention in Florida, which has become one of the country’s leading coronavirus hotspots.

Attendance will be limited to the 2,500 regular RNC delegates for the first three days of the convention, with delegates allowed to bring one guest and alternate delegates also allowed to attend, capping total attendance at about 7,000 people.

But Williams, said Monday that communication issues, concerns over reimbursement and a truncated time frame have forced his department “past the point of no return to execute the event with safety and security that is our obligation.”

CNN has reached out to the Trump campaign for comment.

RNC spokesperson Mandi Merritt told CNN in a statement Monday that the committee “continues to work closely with local leadership in Jacksonville on planning for the convention, including on health and security measures, and the Department of Justice is in the process of allocating millions of dollars in a safety grant.”

“Jacksonville has accommodated upwards of 70,000 people for football games and other events, and we are confident in state, local and federal officials to be able to ensure a safe event for our attendees,” she said.

RNC officials decided in June to move the convention — aside from pro-forma voting — away from Charlotte, North Carolina, after the state’s Democratic governor insisted on safety protocols including social distancing and mask-wearing, which President Trump was unwilling to do at the time.

Jacksonville Republicans had pitched the site as the best big city venue where Republicans control both city and state government.

“This is Trump country here. This is the single best city in America in which to host the Republican National Convention, and for several reasons. It’s a battleground county in a battleground state, in a city where you have unified Republican governance,” Duval County Republican Chairman Dean Black previously told CNN.

In 2016, Trump carried Duval County, which includes all of Jacksonville, by slightly more than 1 percentage point — but neighboring St. Johns County by more than 30 points. The stretch of northeastern Florida is deep red Trump country, where the campaign believes it can expand their margins to help win Florida, which is crucial in building a path to 270 electoral votes.

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