The Republican Party of Texas told Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner that they’ll see him in court after he cancelled their massive in-person convention scheduled for next week due to COVID-19.
On Thursday afternoon, the state GOP filed a lawsuit against Mayor Sylvester Turner, the City of Houston, Houston First Corporation and Houston First President Brenda Bazan for nullifying the contract between the RPT and Houston First, the nonprofit that runs George R. Brown Convention Center on behalf of the City.
The main claim made in the lawsuit is that Turner didn’t have a sufficient reason to invoke the force majeure clause within the event contract that allows one of the parties to renege on the agreement — despite the fact that it lists an epidemic in Houston as reasonable grounds for dismissal — and that he was instead allegedly acting out of political malice as a Democrat.
“Mayor Turner’s crocodile tears reek of ideological viewpoint discrimination,” the lawsuit states.
The Republican Party of Texas wants to be granted a temporary restraining order that would let them hold the convention next week in addition to seeking monetary damages for $100,000 or less if the in-person convention is allowed to move forward and over $1,000,000 if it remains cancelled.
The lawsuit questions that Turner cancelled the GOP’s convention on the basis of public health by highlighting how he allowed the massive George Floyd march in early June to proceed, even though outdoor gatherings like marches are considered much less likely vectors for COVID-19 than in-person gatherings with thousands of attendees like the state GOP had planned to host.
Another lawsuit was filed on Thursday in connection to the cancelled convention by Jared Woodfill on behalf of local conservative provocateur Steven Hotze, who sued Turner and Houston First alleging they violated the state Constitution by cancelling the convention.
In recent weeks, Hotze and Woodfill have also sued Gov. Greg Abbott and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo over mask orders and stay at home mandates, without success to date.
In a Thursday afternoon press conference, Turner said that he hadn’t read either lawsuit, he felt confident that the terms of the contract between Houston First and the Texas GOP were such that it was perfectly legal for the City to walk away based on the force majeure clause.
“The reality is that in March of this year, they signed a contract that defined force majeure as a pandemic,” Turner said, before telling state Republicans that they’d be more than welcome to hold their event just north of Houston in Montgomery County, whose County Judge Mark Keogh invited them to do just that in a video posted to Facebook Wednesday night.
“They are welcome to go to Montgomery County. I think Judge Keogh in Montgomery County is more than happy to host the 6,000 delegates,” Turner said.
Earlier in the press conference, Dr. David Persse of the Houston Health Department and Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña both addressed a recent spike since March in 911 distress calls where the person in need had already died by the time the fire department arrived on the scene. Peña stated that several days ago, the HFD responded to 18 such calls where they arrived to find the sick person they were coming to help had already passed away.
Persse explained that these deaths could represent the hidden costs of COVID-19 that don’t show up in public death count data, either because a person who ended up having COVID-19 wasn’t tested before passing away or due to sick Houstonians waiting until it was too late to seek medical care out of fear that they might catch COVID-19 at a hospital.
“The only thing that’s new since March in our community from a health standpoint is COVID,” Persse said.
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Peña implored Houstonians to call 911 before it’s too late, and Persse reassured the public that local hospitals had all of the tools and resources necessary to prevent new patients from catching the coronavirus despite having a high number of COVID-19 patients admitted at this time.
Both Turner and Persse discussed their fears that some undocumented Houston residents might be reticent to seek out COVID-19 testing or seek medical attention if they’re feeling ill due to worries that they might be asked about their immigration status and paperwork if they were to do so based on case trends that show an increasingly high proportion of Hispanic Houstonians dying due to the coronavirus.
Turner stressed that no City of Houston sponsored free testing site will ever ask anyone about their immigration status, and highlighted a new free COVID-19 testing site set to open next Monday at Houston Community College’s Frelix Fraga Academic Campus located in southeast Houston, which was specifically chosen due to the area’s high concentration of Hispanic residents. Persse said that based on all his years of medical experience, he knew that hospitals “don’t care” about any given patient’s residency status.
“They’re not going to ask you, they’re not going to report you. They don’t care about that,” Persse said.