Why Turner believes GOP convention is 'different' than protests

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Mayor Sylvester Turner was faced with hard-hitting questions shortly after he announced Houston First, which operates the George R. Brown convention center, canceled the Texas GOP convention set for next week due to a surge in COVID-19 cases.

READ MORE: Houston mayor cancels in-person GOP convention

When asked how a convention gathering compares to the recent march in Houston, which was organized to honor the death of George Floyd, who died at the hands of police and drew 60,000 people, according to Turner at the time, he said he gets that question all the time.

"There's some people who may think, 'Well look, we had 60,000 protesters gathering. That's a lot of people," explained ABC13 reporter Miya Shay when addressing the mayor on Wednesday. "That's a gathering, this is a gathering ..."

Turner said if a person wants to march anywhere in the city, that's "their First Amendment right."

"You don't need a permit from me, and you can march," said Turner. "That's an outdoor event. Go for it, but it's a different thing when you're talking about an indoor convention, two to three days, where people are in close proximity every single day, most of the day. That is a different deal."

Turner said the contract cancellation will mean that the convention cannot be held at GRB, or any other facility in Houston, but may continue virtually.

The news comes days after Turner threatened to cancel the convention if it violated COVID-19 rules.

The mayor said he consulted with advisers, and even his family, about the decision.

"[They said] 'Mayor, brother, your mom was a maid working at one of these hotels," he said in a moving moment during his briefing. "If your mom was alive today, working at one of these hotels, with you as the mayor, still allowing this convention to go forward and run the risk of infecting your mom ... and the answer is no."

He continued on saying, "You don't have to be my mom, but I am the mayor of every single person in this city, and if you're not willing to step up and do the right thing, I am not going to divorce my responsibility and my child. We closed down the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and this convention is no greater or better."

As of Wednesday, the city of Houston reported 204 new COVID-19 new cases, according to Turner, although he mentioned he believes there may be some sort of "glitch" in the state's system and believes the number is higher.

Statewide, at last check, there are more than 10,000 cases.

Moments after Turner ended his briefing, the Harris County GOP released the following statement from Chairman Paul Simpson.

"Mayor Turner's hypocritical flip flop on public gatherings is a political stunt. While he joined in massive marches in the streets last month, he has now blocked Republican grassroots activists from peaceably assembling even under the most stringent health safeguards. The Mayor should not abuse power for political ends."

Meanwhile, the Texas Republican Party Chairman, James Dickey, issued this statement:

"This morning at the Houston City Council meeting, Mayor Sylvester Turner stated that he will do all he can to cancel the Republican Party of Texas State Convention. After allowing tens of thousands of protesters to peaceably assemble in the same city, in the same area, without any of the safety precautions and measures we have taken, he is seeking to deny a political Party's critical electoral function that should be equally protected under the constitution. Mayor Turner had the authority to shut down the convention, until he actively took steps - as reported by the Houston Chronicle on June 30 - "removing his own authority to cancel it."

"With his words today, Mayor Turner is saying Houston does not want business. He does not want Houston to get back to work. He is not able to move forward and rise to these new challenges. Is the City of Houston never going to get back to work? Is the City of Houston never to hold another convention at their cavernous Convention Center? This is an opportunity to show how to get back to work safely and how to hold conventions safely with cutting edge technology. 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."

The Greater Houston Partnership president and CEO, Bob Harvey, also released a statement:

"We thank Mayor Sylvester Turner for taking the necessary steps to cancel next week's in-person state GOP convention. 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. We believe this move will protect the health and safety of both the delegates and the hotel and convention center employees who were scheduled to work the event, as well as protect the public at large. By making this decision today versus next week, the Republican Party of Texas can now finalize arrangements to host this important event in a virtual format."
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