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Houston Mayor Cancels State Republican Party’s In-Person Convention

Mayor Sylvester Turner updates the public during the COVID-19 pandemic at a July 6, 2020 press conference.
Telemundo | Pool Footage
Mayor Sylvester Turner updates the public during the COVID-19 pandemic at a July 6, 2020 press conference.

Updated 4:06 p.m. CT Wednesday

After weeks of political posturing between state Republicans and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, the mayor on Wednesday said he’s canceling the Texas Republican Party’s in-person convention, an event that was scheduled to be held at downtown Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center beginning on July 16.

COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the Houston area, where more than 10% of COVID-19 tests have been coming back positive for over two weeks. Gov. Greg Abbott told reporters in May that he considers a positivity rate above 10% a “warning flag.” 

“Look, these are some very serious times,” Turner said at a press conference Wednesday. “And the public safety of the people attending the convention, their employees, their family members, the people in the city of Houston, the public health concerns are first and foremost. Paramount.”

The George R. Brown Convention Center is city owned and operated by Houston First, a quasi-governmental entity known as a local government corporation. Turner said Houston First sent a letter to the state GOP’s executive committee informing them of the decision shortly after 3 p.m. Wednesday. 

The mayor cited the advice of Houston’s health authority, David Persse, as part of the decision to cancel the event. In a Tuesday letter addressed to Turner and Houston First president and CEO Brenda Bazan, Persse called the use of the convention center “a clear and present danger to public health,” a point he reiterated at Wednesday’s press conference.

“I think it’s obvious to pretty much everyone,” Persse said. “This is a very bad time to have a large gathering.”

The convention was expected to draw around 6,000 attendees. State Republican officials had already reportedly planned to deliver their speeches by video rather than in person, but didn’t go so far as to call for participants to meet virtually. 

The mayor had signaled throughout the day that the city may cancel the event. At a Wednesday city council meeting, Turner announced he was directing the city’s legal department to review the contract between Houston First and the State Republican Executive Committee, the leadership group that organizes the convention.

Turner did not explain Wednesday why he hadn’t exercised his discretion to order the legal department to review the contract sooner, before organizations like the Texas Medical Association and the Greater Houston Partnership in recent days intensified public pressure to cancel the convention. 

Earlier in the day, Texas Republican Party chair James Dickey threatened legal action against the city if Turner moved forward with the cancellation. 

“Our legal team is assessing the ability of the City to act at this time in this manner and weighing our legal options. We are prepared to take all necessary steps to proceed in the peaceable exercise of our constitutionally protected rights,” Dickey said. 

Dickey argued any decision to cancel the convention would signal a failure to support the business community. 

“With his words today, Mayor Turner is saying Houston does not want business. He does not want Houston to get back to work,” Dickey said. “He is not able to move forward and rise to these new challenges.” 

But Houston business leaders at the Greater Houston Partnership on Wednesday applauded the event’s cancelation.

“As a number of organizations including ours have voiced in recent days, Houston simply cannot accept the risk that comes with hosting an indoor event for thousands of participants from across Texas at a time when COVID-19 is surging in the community,” read a statement from Greater Houston Partnership president and CEO Bob Harvey. 

Please check Houston Public Media for updates.