The president of a youth political organization is blaming the city of Dallas for the abrupt cancellation of an activism training event that was set to begin Thursday.
But a spokeswoman for the city said the management of the Omni Dallas — which is owned by the city but privately managed — made the decision to postpone the gathering because of concerns about the coronavirus.
Young Americans for Liberty had planned for 1,400 students to attend the event at the Omni Dallas Hotel downtown, along with 250 investors and 100 elected officials, including prominent Republicans such as U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem.
But the group’s president, Cliff Maloney, said that while the organization had two 18-wheelers at the Omni on Monday waiting to unload stage equipment, banners and audiovisual gear, the hotel told him the city was canceling the event.
“They could have easily given us a heads up,” Maloney said. “That’s what’s frustrating.”
City spokeswoman Catherine Cuellar said the decision came from the hotel’s management, not the city. She said the hotel had offered to postpone the event, rather than cancel it.
A representative for the Omni said in a statement Wednesday that at the recommendation of the asset manager, Matthews Southwest, “moving forward with the event at this time wasn’t supported in light of the current pandemic.”
“The Omni Dallas Hotel looks forward to working with groups impacted by COVID-19 to potentially reschedule at an appropriate time,” the statement said.
The Young Americans for Liberty event, Mobilize 2020, was initially set to take place in Austin, but the organization announced in mid-June that it would relocate to Dallas, which Maloney said the organization saw as a “pro-business” environment.
Young Americans for Liberty, which has its headquarters in Austin, has been called a libertarian organization, but Maloney described it as a “grassroots youth organization.”
“Sadly, there’s no other way to see it than to think that it’s a politically biased decision,” Maloney said.
Cuellar said the Omni had continued to book events in recent weeks in the hopes that COVID-19 cases might decline enough for large groups to gather safely.
“Obviously, it’s a very dynamic situation,” she said. “At the time being, everyone in Dallas is safest at home, practicing physical distancing, covering faces and practicing good hand hygiene.”
Maloney said the organization agreed to all of the public health-focused stipulations required to have the event. Those included plans to provide — and require — face masks, offering boxed lunches rather than buffet-style meals, and following seating arrangements that would have maintained social distancing.
He said he believed the group could have conducted a safe event, especially because the people who would have attended were mostly young adults.
“I’m not pulling 95-year-olds into this event,” he said. “Eighteen- to 25-year-olds — they are practically not even on the chart when it comes to COVID-19,” Maloney said. “We take it very seriously — look at the things we agreed to comply to do.”
Cuellar said that though the group was willing to abide by public health guidelines, because the event would have had large numbers of people gathering indoors, the Omni’s management didn’t think it was the right time to have this event.
Although the Omni offered a full refund, Maloney said the group is out about $200,000, including the costs of travel vouchers and vendor services.
“If the city would have been responsible and wouldn’t have pulled a last-minute stunt on us, I would not be in a position where I’m thinking I might have to sue the city to recoup those costs and get what we think was fairly taken from us by the vendors, but unfairly forced by the city with a just irrational, erratic, stupid decision,” he said.