Mayor Ron Nirenberg
Mayor Ron Nirenberg is the object of Twitter taunts from Brad Parscale, President Donald Trump's 2020 campaign manager, about the 2020 Republican National Convention. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

President Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, criticized San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg on Twitter Wednesday and again Thursday morning for what he called an “epic political mistake” in not aggressively pursuing a bid by the city for the 2020 Republican National Convention.

The former San Antonio digital data and media specialist, who now operates his political strategy business out of Florida, on Wednesday tweeted: “Coming soon to #SanAntonio: another mayor makes an epic political mistake that takes a possible 200MM from the community. Why??? I want to rip the last hair I have out of my head. Maybe he is just waiting on Mayor Sculley to decide for him.”

Parscale, who did work for former Mayor Ivy Taylor’s campaign against Nirenberg, was referring to City Manager Sheryl Sculley.

Nirenberg’s response Wednesday, not on Twitter, was pointed and brief: “I don’t respond to political operatives’ tweetstorms.”

In a subsequent tweet Thursday morning, Parscale again criticized “weak-kneed Ron” Nirenberg, saying he “conspires to kill” chances of the GOP convention being held in San Antonio.

In a telephone interview with the Rivard Report after his Thursday morning tweet, Parscale said he is advocating on San Antonio’s behalf for the convention not in his official capacity as Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, but “in my personal capacity of a citizen of San Antonio as my hometown.” However, because Trump’s campaign has a seat on the host city selection committee, Parscale clearly has influence on where the convention will be held.

“Spending 20 years in the downtown business community, it is obvious that San Antonio has built itself into Convention City USA, with a world-class convention center, a large stadium in downtown walking distance, one of the nation’s largest footprints of hotel rooms, and a downtown perfectly designed for a convention takeover,” Parscale said.

“And I wish that weak-kneed Ron could make a decisive decision that helps the income and prosperity of all San Antonians.”

Brad Parscale attends the re-election campaign announcement of then-Mayor Ivy Taylor in November 2016.
Brad Parscale attends the re-election campaign announcement of then-Mayor Ivy Taylor in November 2016. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Before the tweetstorm on Wednesday, the mayor on Monday initiated a process to consider the economic costs and benefits of hosting a national political convention. He  emphasized that GOP interest in San Antonio as a host city had been an on-again, off-again courtship.

What’s not clear are the political calculations in considering or promoting the city as convention host. Many political observers consider Texas a safe bet for Republicans, even if San Antonio itself votes Democratic. Presidential candidates often prefer choosing swing states in which to hold their conventions.

“I have no idea why Trump would want his convention in SA, from a strategic point of view,” longtime Democratic strategist Paul Begala wrote in an email Wednesday when asked about convention hosting gamesmanship. (Begala, who advised President Clinton, grew up in Texas and received both his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Texas at Austin.)

“[Trump’s] Rust Belt States: Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania – gave him the White House. Florida is absorbing hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans – which might tip that state away from him,” Begala wrote. “But Parscale is, apparently, worried about Texas. Objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear!”

Sheryl Sculley has been the city manager of San Antonio for 12 years.
City Manager Sheryl Sculley Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

In a memo to City Council members and City staff, including Sculley, Nirenberg on April 23 wrote that the City had been encouraged to submit a proposal to host the 2020 GOP convention. He asked Sculley to arrange a full briefing for Council “at the earliest possible date.”

Parscale had emailed the mayor earlier Monday, urging him to make a strong bid to host the convention. Parscale said he had been informed that San Antonio was not pursuing the opportunity. He also noted his own “direct part in this decision making process” as Trump’s campaign manager.

“I have been told that San Antonio is not pursing [sic] the opportunity to have the convention in the city. This in my opinion is a big mistake, because San Antonio has a great chance to win. This chance might not come again for decades,” Parscale wrote in an email to Nirenberg.

“As we discussed the convention has international exposure, 85,000 room nights, 250MM in economic impact, 15,000 reporters, and even larger than the final four [sic]. I hope politics will not get in the way,” Parscale wrote.

He further asked the mayor to inform him if the City decided against pursuing a bid.

Nirenberg disputed Parscale’s characterization of the city’s interest in possibly hosting the GOP convention. In his memo to Council, he said the City had learned last month it was among several cities being considered by Republican party officials.

“I learned about this during a March 23 meeting hosted by a small group of local business and civic leaders. At that time, I was informed that the Republican National Committee was interested in San Antonio as a possible location for its 2020 convention,” Nirenberg wrote in the memo to Council.

The meeting included City officials, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, Republican National Committee representatives, and local business leaders.

“I was prepared to inform City Council about this opportunity during its executive session on March 28. However, prior to that date, I was informed that the GOP opted not to pursue a bid from San Antonio. As such, no further discussions occurred” until Parscale emailed him Monday, Nirenberg wrote.

Regardless of timelines, Nirenberg said in a separate statement that he does have reservations about spending millions on a national political convention, regardless of the political party in question.

“The national parties dangle their conventions in front of cities every four years. This is nothing new,” he said.

“There is a reason that San Antonio has not pursued a national political convention since 2000. The local community has to commit tens of millions of dollars upfront, and prudent fiscal stewards have good reason to question whether that expense is worthwhile for the community,” he said in the statement.

National political conventions can cost a city millions of dollars, but the payoff in national exposure often convinces city officials to push beyond upfront costs.

Wolff, who participated in the meeting March 23, said Thursday morning he believes hosting a GOP convention would be an economic boon for the city. He said that officials in Charlotte, North Carolina, which has publicly announced its bid to host the 2020 Republican convention, cited a positive economic benefit of more than $200 million. Charlotte held the Democratic National Convention in 2012.

Wolff pointed out that the host city for the GOP convention would receive some $40 million in financial assistance from the federal government to help cover security costs.

“The issue [at the March 23 meeting] was, Trump’s a lightning rod, ok? We all know that. And the concern about that,” Wolff said. “But even if he gets the nomination, they fly in and they don’t stay long, and then they leave.”

One major concern, Wolff said, was managing the protests against Trump that most likely would take place. “There will be protest groups, but Washington has him almost every other day.”

“It’s about the democratic process … everyone has their right to say and be part of that process. We shouldn’t hold that against the opposite party having a convention in the city,” Wolff said.

Begala said he doesn’t believe cities cash in on national political conventions. “But they get invaluable publicity, which, many believe, leads to lots more convention business,” he said.

U.S. Rep Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) addresses the audience at a town hall meeting with the Government Hill Alliance Neighborhood Association at St. Patrick Catholic Church.
U.S. Rep Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas). Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) praised Nirenberg for initiating a thoughtful approach to evaluating pros and cons of a convention bid.

“He simply called for council members to meet and consider whether the city wants to undertake raising tens of millions of dollars to attract a convention that may feature Donald Trump,” who repeatedly criticizes and strikes out at people of color, Doggett said.

“It’s deeply disturbing,” he said. “But if there’s a positive cost benefit … the Republicans can come and spend all their money [here.] But we will remain a strong Democratic community, I believe.”

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Beth Frerking

Beth Frerking is the former editor-in-chief of the Rivard Report.