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Politics

Squaring off to be Charlotte's next mayor

http://66.225.205.104/LM20091026.mp3

Charlotte's mayoral elections over the last decade haven't offered much suspense. Pat McCrory has cruised to victory in seven elections. This year with McCrory out of the race there's more intrigue. Either Republican John Lassiter or Democrat Anthony Foxx will be Charlotte's first new mayor in fourteen years. They're both attorneys and at-large members of city council, but lately they've been playing up their differences. WFAE's Lisa Miller has this profile on Charlotte's mayoral race: If you went to one of more than twenty debates between John Lassiter and Anthony Foxx this election season, you're likely to have heard a variation of this: Foxx pushing his vision and Lassiter touting his experience. "We're going to have to align resources. We're going to have to align our community to take on old problems and find new solutions to those problems," said Foxx at a recent debate. "I bring experienced leadership," said Lassiter at the same debate. "I bring a record of accomplishment as a member of the school board, as a member of council chairing economic development efforts, as a private citizen engaged in a wide variety of organizations." Lassiter moved to Charlotte 27 years ago. He led his neighborhood association, joined the planning commission, then the school board. Currently, he's serving his third term on city council and running a legal staffing firm. Foxx grew up in west Charlotte and often talks about his early years coping without a father. He earned a scholarship to Davidson College, went on to get a law degree from NYU and returned to Charlotte in 2001 to work as an attorney. Foxx is serving his second term on city council. Both men have good things to say about how each other has dealt with the give and take on city council. "I think Anthony is a very passionate young man," says Lassiter. "I think he's got a sense of heritage in place that is special and I admire him for bringing that to the conversation every time that issues comes up that he knows something about because this is his hometown. "John's got a good sense of humor," says Foxx. "Even in the most tense of discussions he's able to pull back and pull a one-liner sometimes that lightens the mood and that's an admirable quality to have because we do have tense moments on the city council and it's good to have some good-naturedness." But lately the goodwill between them has run out as they look to drive home their differences and stake their claim on the mayor's seat. On city council, Foxx and Lassiter have been on the same side of several significant votes. They both voted for a 2 percent hike in hotel tax to help build the NASCAR Hall of Fame and then approved $32 million for exhibits and unexpected construction costs at the museum. They also voted to set aside $3 million to improve the county's state-run court system and supported a bill that would allow the city to ask voters for a second half-cent sales tax for transit. But Lassiter and Foxx took different stands on a 2006 budget vote that hiked property taxes by 9 percent. Foxx supported it in part because it allowed for the hiring of 70 police officers. "I walked into a city council that had an understaffed police force, that had not built a road, not one road since 2002, and that was resurfacing roads at about three times worse than what the state recommends," said Foxx at a recent debate. "In other words, pot holes were abundant and that was not coming at a zero cost to you." Lassiter voted against it and supported a plan to hire 35 police officers. Here he is during that 2006 council meeting. "What we have before us is a loss of focus," said Lassiter. "We have a focus that is no longer looking at basic needs and the principles we established, but have added unnecessary and unmanaged governmental spending." That same year Lassiter led a push to develop a cultural complex that includes a new Mint Museum, a modern-art museum, and a larger Afro-American Cultural Museum. Those projects were funded largely by hiking the car rental tax from 11 percent to 16 percent. Both Foxx and Lassiter count their work on helping to develop struggling areas throughout the city as one of their bigger accomplishments on council. Foxx asked council to create a $9 million fund to pay for re-development projects. In the case of Eastland Mall, that made it easier for the city to have a role in its re-development. Recently, it's been reported that the city is discussing buying the mall for $40 million. Lassiter says there's no way he'd support that. "I've never thought it was a good idea for the city to buy Eastland Mall," says Lassiter. "I do think it's a good idea for the city to be at the table and be in a position to negotiate and direct the re-development in a way that matches up with our interests." Foxx has said he would only consider it if the city got a fire sale price on it and had a clear strategy to get rid of the property if no developer comes along. And then there's the streetcar. Both candidates support it, but last month Foxx voted to override the Mayor's veto of a $4.5 million engineering study for the line. Lassiter said it makes no sense to pay for the study when there's no budget for the actual project. But Foxx takes a different tact. "We can't figure out a way to pay for it until we figure out how much it costs and the only way to know how much it costs is to do a study," says Foxx. "Now on the other end of it is a potential to generate a billion dollars of economic return which can then eventually be plowed into hiring police officers and building roads and doing lots of other things." Drawing out these differences has made for some heated moments. Usually they start with Foxx rebutting something Lassiter has said. "John called that budget had some unnecessary, unmanaged government spending. Part of that unnecessary and unmanaged government spending was" Lassiter's face reddens and after the debate he refuses to shake hands with Foxx. Later, he offered no apologies. "At some points you just go, 'You've been unkind to me. I don't know why I deserve giving you any sense of credit for going through a discussion and analysis of positive issues.' I like him personally. I don't like how he acts around me," says Lassiter. They'll be around each other at least four more times before next week's election. There are a few debates scheduled this week, including one airing Wednesday night on WCNC.