JACKSONVILLE, Fla — Four days after President Trump announced the Republican National Convention will not be in Jacksonville, Mayor Lenny Curry is going one-on-one with First Coast News to open up about the decision to call off the RNC amid COVID-19.
“We have to continue to try to do things even while we navigate the unknowns of COVID-19," Curry said. "Based on the information we had at the time, 3% positive cumulative dropped to 2.8%. We were trying to get an economic shot to our community.”
When the conditions changed based on COVID-19 he said the president pulled the plug.
“The president pulled the plug, so we made an effort," Curry explained. "Fortunately, I believe the right decision was made and this is where we are today.”
The president's announcement didn't surprise Curry who had pushed for the convention to be moved to the River City.
"I did not know he was going to announce it that day," Curry said. "I was actively in discussions with them about whether or not we should move forward this way."
He said he and his team had gotten a message to the president's chief of staff hours before the announcement was made that they were watching the COVID numbers closely since they could impact either the size of the event or whether it would even happen.
"No decision was made," Curry said. "I had not made that decision. We were talking about it. The president then made the decision, and I think he made the right decision. I spoke to the president. He then called me on Friday to thank me, to thank the city for all of our efforts."
It was a race against the clock from the beginning to pull off in less than 75 days a political convention that usually takes two years to plan, but the mayor said Jacksonville taxpayers didn't foot the bill.
"No taxpayer dollars. The RNC Host Committee is a nonprofit organization that raised all their money from private donors. That's the organization that contracts with city facilities," Curry explained. "Just like if someone came to our city to put on a concert, they would do the same thing. The contract would be with those that run the facilities. All those private dollars are the monies that will be used to pay the obligations that exist based on the work that's done and no taxpayer dollars. The city is not on the hook for this."
Curry also addressed critics who question why schools are reopening when the president cited COVID-19 concerns for canceling the convention in Jacksonville.
"A political convention with tens of thousands of people from all over packed in an arena screaming and yelling for hours for what I would argue is a political, recreational event. It's a non-essential event if you will," Curry said. "The president made a decision that it's a non-essential activity, an event, unnecessary risk so let's move on from it. Schools, look, I'm a proponent of kids having the option to go back to school. I think families that don't want to go back ought to have that option as well and teachers as well."
Curry said he plans to send his own three children back to school.
"I don't believe it's an option to be in a lockdown, a permanent lockdown until we have a vaccine," he said. "I don't think it's a smart option to have kids at home for, what if we don't have a vaccine for a year? What if we don't have a vaccine for two years? Are we just going to lock our kids in their homes? I believe we have to find a way to navigate and manage this in a smart way."
Duval County has now surpassed 20,000 cumulative COVID-19 cases, and the mayor encourages everyone to remain vigilant. He said he has long been a proponent of wearing masks, and while the city is not issuing tickets or arresting people who don't follow the mask mandate he implemented requiring masks in public, indoor spaces where you can't practice social distancing, he said it all comes down to personal responsibility.
"I think that we have to do everything that we can to be back to work. If you work from home, work from home, but the economy needs to be operating in a smart safe way. The experts have told us really simple things like wearing a mask make a huge difference," Curry said. "Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Don't be unnecessarily in large crowds."