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Lassiter and Foxx face-off before kids a day after key debate is canceled

Charlotte's mayoral candidates are scheduled to show up at more than twenty mayoral debates and forums between now and Election Day. But a mainstay on Charlotte's political calendar, the League of Women Voters debate on public television and WSOC, is a no go. That was canceled this week after Republican candidate John Lassiter refused to go along with the League's ground rules. Last night, he and Democrat Anthony Foxx faced-off for the first time since the controversy - although most of the members of the audience weren't old enough to vote. WFAE's Lisa Miller has more on the Kids Voting debate. Seasoned voters and political pundits aren't the only ones who can critique political strategy. And sometimes the uninitiated can make the franker assessment. About thirty high school students came out to Imaginon last night to watch Charlotte's two mayoral candidates face off just a day after Lassiter withdrew from the League of Women Voters debate. That cancellation caused some confusion. "I heard about it this morning and for a second I had mistaken it for tonight's debate. I thought, 'Hey what's going on?'" said one student. Here's what happened: The League of Women Voters called for six rebuttals over the hour-long event scheduled for late October. Lassiter demanded no more than three rebuttals. The league refused to agree to his demand, so Lassiter backed out. "Trying to come up with a way to maximize the questions that can come from the floor and come from the folks that are participating and not get too much banter between the candidates I think is the most informative structure," said Lassiter. Lassiter said his decision doesn't in effect mean no questions get asked. "No, we have two other TV debates, one the night of the 27th, one the previous week. There are literally going to be over thirty joint appearances and debates," said Lassiter. Last night's debate hosted by Kids Voting limited candidates to five rebuttals. They could signal them, by showing a red card. Lassiter didn't take any, but Anthony Foxx took three. One came shortly after a question about creating more bike paths. The answers quickly drifted to a budget vote in 2006 which added more money to the road re-surfacing fund. Foxx called out Lassiter for voting against it. Lassiter justified his decision in his answer. "We disagreed with that vote because it was a 9 percent increase in property taxes and I couldn't find a reason to make that kind of up-change in a tough economy," began Lassiter. After he finished, Foxx showed a red card and jumped in. "I'm going to talk about this 9 percent tax increase a little bit because there's been some view that I don't have a business-like mentality about how the city works," he said. Foxx said the budget made sense because it also allowed the city to hire seventy more police officers. Lassiter replied the city still would have been able to do that without raising taxes if it made cuts elsewhere. About forty kids submitted questions for the debate. Many of their questions focused on the personal side of the candidates, opportunities for young people and education. One student asked what changes the candidates would make to the educational system acknowledging it wasn't usually up to city government to make those decisions. Lassiter answered first. "We don't have a holistic view about the needs of children in this community. We don't have a guarantee of quality after-school care or daycare or before school care," said Lassiter. "What happens is the city pays for a little bit, the county pays for a little bit, the schools pay for a little bit. Consequently, some kids don't get what they need. We need to restructure our way to make sure we have that whole day covered for kids who need that kind of service." Foxx talked about expanding mentoring and after-school programs and getting more parents involved in their children's studies. "I think as mayor you have an enormous bully pulpit from which to speak about issues relative to education. And I plan to use it," said Foxx. "I plan to talk about parenting - turning off the ipod, turning off the TV, getting homework done." As the kids filed out, several of them said they felt both candidates would do a good job as mayor. Jalen Feaster, a sophomore at Mallard Creek High School, said Foxx and Lassiter answered questions well. But he wondered why Lassiter pulled out of the League of Women Voters debate. "You running for mayor you got to make things happen, you got to adapt to certain rules and just live along with it," said Feaster. "You can't just say 'I don't like the way this is going so I'm going to cancel the debate.'" As for the rebuttals, Feaster's punditry had Foxx outshining Lassiter in those parts of the evening.