- Associated Press - Friday, July 20, 2018

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Charlotte, the North Carolina city selected for the 2020 Republican national Convention, has a history of diversity and inclusiveness that has sometimes been difficult to achieve.

The Democratic-leaning city was chosen over Las Vegas at the summer meeting of the GOP’s national committee Friday. In 2012, North Carolina’s largest city hosted the Democratic National Convention.

The city hopes to present itself as belonging on the national stage, but some residents worry about the potential for violence between supporters and opponents of President Donald Trump.

“I’m going to call for unity,” said Vi Lyles, Charlotte’s first black female mayor, after the City Council voted 6-5 on Monday to make a bid for the convention. “Unity doesn’t come easily. It comes with hard work, and we’re trying our best to make that happen.”

Recent history has proven how elusive unity can be.

Under Lyles’ predecessor, Jennifer Roberts, Charlotte passed an LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinance in 2016 that included allowing people to choose the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity. The Republican-led General Assembly responded with House Bill 2, which prevented other local governments from passing similar laws and directed transgender people in schools and government buildings to use restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates.

A protracted battle marked by corporate pullouts and sports boycotts ended when state lawmakers rolled back the restrictions, but not enough to satisfy LGBTQ advocates.

Against the backdrop of Trump’s statements denigrating minorities, Muslims, women and the LGBTQ population, several residents have expressed concerns about the potential for upheaval outside the convention given divisions within the city, particularly in the wake of violent protests in 2016 in downtown Charlotte after the police shooting of a black man.

The Rev. Amantha Barbee said that although the city was able to handle protesters during the Democratic convention in 2012, it may see more trouble in two years.

“It’s not an issue of Democrat versus Republican. It is an issue of public safety,” Barbee said. “I know they say they have this money for extra security and that we didn’t have these problems in the past. But we have a very different climate in 2012. I don’t think anybody can deny the amount of angst that we have experienced in this country over the last year and a half. And now, with our heightened interaction with the Russian government, it’s even caused more concern.”

Barbee, who spoke at the Monday hearing before the City Council vote, said she had a message for city leaders.

“I think you and six members of the City Council made a conscious decision to put the public safety at risk,” she said, referring to Lyles and the six yes votes.

Charlotte-based Republican consultant Larry Shaheen says he doesn’t expect to see violence like that at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago.

“I do not believe that something like ‘68 is going to happen in Charlotte,” Shaheen said.

Given recent events in the city, he said, Charlotte convention organizers would be wise to begin building civic unity for the event now to avoid a spark “fanning into the flame.”

Las Vegas was a finalist for the GOP convention in 2016 as well. Some Republican leaders feared the city’s reputation, and the influence of casino moguls Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn on Republican politics, might cloud the convention’s message.

Democrats, meanwhile, have narrowed their 2020 convention choices to Houston, Miami and Milwaukee. Anticipating a crowded and contentious primary battle, they’re also planning to move up their convention date to give the party more time to come together before the fall general election.


Associated Press writer Gary Robertson contributed reporting from Charlotte, North Carolina.

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