TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Republicans on Tuesday tried to tamp down fears surrounding next month’s Republican National Convention a day after Jacksonville’s sheriff warned that he couldn’t keep people safe without an infusion of help and money.
Tim Murtaugh, a spokesperson for President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, downplayed the warning from Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams during a Tuesday appearance on CNN.
“We have confidence it will be a great event, a great series of events over the course of four days and it will be safe,” Murtaugh said. “Law enforcement in Jacksonville will have access to a big pile of federal money.”
Murtaugh’s reasoning, however, included an example rebutted by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
“The people in law enforcement in the city of Jacksonville have a lot of experience with providing security for large-scale events,” Murtaugh said, noting that the Jacksonville Jaguars can pack 70,000 people into a football stadium. “I’m pretty sure they can handle security at an event like the Republican national convention.”
Jacksonville Undersheriff Pat Ivey said comparing a football game to a political convention was “apples and oranges.” Law enforcement authorities have a plug-and-play plan they have used for decades to handle sports events. The multinight political gathering, by contrast, will require meals and hotel rooms and thousands of personnel.
“This is a much bigger animal,” said Ivey. One of the logistical challenges is that organizers are looking to move events from the Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena downtown to a nearby football stadium or minor league baseball park.
The presidential nominating convention has been in constant motion since Republicans moved the main events, including Trump’s acceptance speech, out of North Carolina amid a feud with Gov. Roy Cooper over safety restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, coronavirus infections have soared in Florida. Jacksonville has imposed a mask mandate on residents, and convention organizers have limited the number of attendees.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, a former Republican Party of Florida chair who helped woo the convention’s marquee events away from Charlotte, N.C., said he is working to ensure the city has enough law enforcement personnel on hand for the convention and any possible protests. The city also is expecting more than $30 million in federal grant money to pay for security costs.
Curry said that he wasn’t surprised by Williams’ decision to publicly air his concerns and said “he knows what he’s talking about, clearly.”
“The position that he takes that we’re not prepared for this right now, yes, I agree with him,” Curry told reporters Tuesday. “However, he also has communicated that he’s continuing to work with the planners to configure this in a way that’s safe and to get the resources that he needs.”
Sen. Rick Scott, a Republican and former two-term Florida governor, praised Williams as a “very good sheriff,” and said the responsibility for pulling off a safe convention will fall to many.
“The RNC, the Trump campaign, the mayor, the sheriff, I know they are going to work together to do everything they can to have a safe convention,” Scott told Fox Business on Tuesday.
Matt Dixon contributed to this report.