Politics & Government

RNC host city Charlotte votes to condemn Trump’s ‘racist and xenophobic’ comments

The Charlotte City Council on Monday night supported a resolution to “strongly condemn,” among other things, President Donald Trump’s recent call for four congresswomen to leave the United States and supporters’ recent “Send Her Back” chant during a rally in North Carolina.

Council member Dimple Ajmera, a Democrat, said the vote was deeply personal. She immigrated to the United States from India, with her parents at age 16.

“I have been told to go back to the ‘sh--hole country’ that I came from,” Ajmera said.

The chant at a Greenville, N.C., Trump rally last week of “Send Her Back,” Ajmera said, “brought tears to my eyes.”

Republican council member Ed Driggs said he would not support condemning Trump’s past comments and he criticized Mayor Vi Lyles’ decision to add the resolution just a few hours before Monday’s meeting took place.

“I don’t personally endorse the way the president has chosen to conduct himself,” Driggs said. “But he didn’t create the tension that we’re experiencing ... He’s the result of the tension.”

Monday’s vote followed a brief discussion on whether city leaders could legally back out of Charlotte’s agreement with the Republican National Committee to host its 2020 convention — a move that would, according to the city’s attorney, assuredly land Charlotte in a costly legal fight.

Still, some council members said they want to send a message via a resolution condemning “all hate speech, bigotry, racism, and discrimination.” The resolution, which passed on a 9-2 vote, specifically calls out tweets and comments from Trump as “racist and xenophobic” and criticizes his assessment of white supremacist supporters in Charlottesville as “very fine people.”

All Democrats on the council supported the resolution. Republican members Tariq Bokhari and Driggs voted against it.

“I oppose phrases like ‘Send Her Back’ in the strongest possible way I can relate to you ... It’s tyrannical,” Bokhari said.

But he questioned why Charlotte’s local elected body should weigh in on national issues and on the question of racist rhetoric, he said. “How are we to be the judge of all that? ... It feels like the word ‘racism’ is thrown around like the word ‘witch’ in the 1600s.”

Before the vote, Lyles said she made the decision to add the resolution to Monday’s agenda, even though it had not previously been announced to the public to provide a chance for citizens to weigh in.

“I don’t take our rules of procedures and process lightly ... It was a really difficult decision for me,” Lyles said, adding: “It is our duty to deny racist and xenophobic voices.”

Council member Justin Harlow drafted the resolution for a vote and said he collaborated closely with several council members to craft the language.

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The resolution cites four specific comments from Trump, from June 2017 to July 2019, and accuses the president of “racist and xenophobic social media tweets and comments.”

“Many of (Charlotte’s) residents are immigrants and/or people of color,” the resolution states. “The Charlotte City Council ... believes that Charlotte should always be welcoming and inviting of people of diverse and different ethnicities and background (sic), so long as those differences do not lead to personal insults or violent discourse.”

The resolution refers to Trump’s past comments about Haitian immigrants having AIDS and condemns the president’s rally in Greenville, N.C., last week where supporters chanted “Send her back,” an apparent reference to U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minnesota, who moved to the United States from Somalia as a child.

Several council members acknowledged the resolution would have “no teeth” beyond making a statement.

“The time to have done something was last year,” said council member LaWana Mayfield, who said the city could have chosen not to extend an invitation to host the RNC.

Agreement to host

Lyles on Monday night acknowledged some in Charlotte want the city to back out of its agreement to host the RNC. Such a move was not up for a vote, but Lyles said council members in recent days asked the city attorney to look into whether Charlotte could back out.

But City Attorney Patrick Baker said no legal option exists for Charlotte to unilaterally end its agreement to host the RNC. There could be an option to dissolve the agreement if there was a “material” breach of contract, Baker said. However, he told council members there was no evidence of that happening so far.

Otherwise, Baker said, if the council breaks its agreement with the RNC, “You would suffer the financial penalties ... And you should expect you would be sued.”

An official with the Republican National Convention in Charlotte and a spokesperson for the Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment from the Observer on Monday.

Driggs said the benefits of hosting the RNC remain the same now as a year ago when a majority Democratic City Council approved it.

“It is not a campaign event for Donald Trump,” Driggs said. “Our willingness to host this event is not an endorsement.”

Bokhari went further and said that anyone espousing racist views should “not associate yourself with my Republican Party ... This is not OK.”

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Anna Douglas is an investigative reporter for the Charlotte Observer. Previously, she worked as a local news reporter for The (Rock Hill) Herald and as a congressional correspondent in Washington, D.C., for McClatchy. Anna is a past recipient of the South Carolina Press Association’s Journalist of the Year award and the Charlotte Society of Professional Journalists’ Outstanding Journalism Award. She’s a South Carolina native, a graduate of Winthrop University, and a past fellow of the Dori Maynard Diversity Leadership Program, sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists. Anna has lived in Charlotte since May 2017.