Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Thank you, Charlotte.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

This is a 'threat'?

This morning, Taylor Batten, the Observer's editorial page editor, discusses the Foxx-Lassiter who's-beholden-to-developers spat in his column. Three paragraphs in, Batten makes a strange comparison:

The two differ in a number of ways. But what became most clear Wednesday night was that Foxx and Lassiter have sharply opposing views of the development-building-real estate industry. Lassiter sees the industry, primarily, as vital to the city's rejuvenation. Foxx sees the industry, primarily, as a threat that needs to be closely regulated.
A threat?

The real estate development community, in and of itself, is not a threat. Over-development is a threat. Development that bulls its way along, heedless of neighborhoods and communities, is a threat. A mayor wrapped around the development community's little finger would be a threat. But developers are critical players in the city's future. They're just not the only ones, and their needs have to be balanced with the community's.

Here are a few of the ways Anthony sees the development community's role:

Anthony will continue to work to leverage private sector investment to create jobs, needed goods and services and tax-base expansion in some of our most challenged areas. Creative collaborations with area financial institutions and venture capitalists will promote economic development in these areas and benefit the collaborators. In addition, a portion of this new job growth will be in the emerging industries that will help diversify our economy.

Anthony will reduce the red tape involved in the permitting process. He will also extend the life of building and master use permits to give developers more time to finish projects without added paperwork.

Anthony will actively recruit and push for incentives to bring new corporate headquarters to Charlotte, expand existing operations and create smart new manufacturing facilities.

Anthony knows the high level of business talent in our community. By forming an Economic Development Cabinet, he will harness that talent to originate new ideas for diversifying our economy, creating jobs, and promoting sustainable development. These new ideas will form the basis of long-term strategies for Charlotte to prosper far into our One Future.
Sound like someone who considers developers a "threat"?

What you see here is a pretty common affliction of the Observer and other corporate media outlets: the false equivalence. Batten is trying, presumably for balance's sake, to set up a dichotomy of pro-development Lassiter vs. anti-development Foxx; the reality is outrageously pro-development Lassiter vs. a more measured pro-development Foxx.

We don't doubt that some developers view an Anthony Foxx victory Tuesday -- and a potential brake on their blank-check dominance of Charlotte's growth -- as a threat. That doesn't mean Anthony sees them the same way.

Friday, October 30, 2009

How to be dumb

OK, here we go. The dumbest quote of the 2009 Charlotte mayoral race:

In Wednesday's fundraising e-mail, Lassiter asked supporters for $70,000 "in the next 72 hours" to help "send a message to my opponent's campaign that Charlotte cannot be bought."
We'll leave you to chew on the, er, somewhat obvious logical contradiction there.

It's the race's big ninth-inning kerfuffle, over campaign contributions, and from whom they come, and where those people live, as detailed in this morning's Observer story.

Anthony and Lassiter have raised roughly the same amount of money (as of the Oct. 26 campaign filing deadline, Anthony had raised $561,892, Lassiter $511,529). Lassiter has raised more, far more, from real estate developers; Anthony has raised more from out of state (though still only 10 percent of his total).

John Lassiter seems to think this is a big ol' deal. From the Observer:

"Their agenda is set on priorities that are not aligned with the priorities of the citizens of Charlotte," he said Thursday. "We have focused our fundraising on folks who live and work in this community."
Really. What do you say? Dude: Ten percent. Anthony, you see, has friends and colleagues outside of Mecklenburg County who are willing to back him because they know him and the kind of man he is. That's the purest, most quid pro quo-resistant kind of contribution. It's not like James Bernfield of Brooklyn, N.Y. ($50 contribution, Sept. 16), is expecting a little reciprocal on a rezoning in Dilworth. And aren't we supposed to be strengthening our ties with people and places outside of Charlotte?

We've already covered the beholden-to-developers angle. Just recognize this whole dust-up for what it is: a bright-red herring served up by a candidate who senses he's about to lose.

Enough already on the police officers

Throughout the campaign, John Lassiter has consistently dissembled about one of the key differences between his record and Anthony's.

It concerns, as we've noted before, the 2006 budget process. (See here; scroll to the bottom.) The record could not be clearer:

Heading into City Council discussions about the 2006-07 budget, then-Police Chief Darrel Stephens had asked for 70 new police officers.

Then-City Manager Pam Syfert, in her budget proposal, included money for 55.

Lassiter and the other council Republicans floated a budget proposal that would have paid for 35.

Anthony and his fellow council Democrats proposed the budget that ultimately passed, with money for all 70 of the officers Stephens had asked for, plus $398 million in badly needed capital improvements, including road resurfacings for the first time in five years. The GOP proposal would have paid for $82 million in capital improvements -- 21 percent of what the city eventually agreed to spend.

More than three years later, during the campaign and in debates, Lassiter has claimed he found savings in that budget that would have enabled the city to hire all 70 extra officers without a tax increase.

Sorry. No sale. There's nothing in the record to back that up. If Lassiter and the council Republicans found those "savings" during the budget process in '06, they should have ponied up and put something on the table, taking care to explain what services were going to be cut in the backwash. They did not. End of discussion.

So here comes John Lassiter last week, suggesting a rollback of the tax hike.

Great idea, John. Tell you what: Go ahead and tell us which cops we should let go, and which streets scheduled for maintenance will just have to stay axle-busters. This is the guy who claims on his television ads that he's "law enforcement's friend, committed to getting repeat criminals off Charlotte's streets." Some friend.

You have to make choices in government, as you do in life; nobody likes higher taxes, but people tend not to like unpaved roads, suspended garbage pickup and rampant crime in the absence of police officers, either. So how do you decide?

Lassiter apparently would have ... both! One of his main goals, he says, is to keep taxes low and services high. We're happy he cleared that up. That's an evergreen, the primary challenge of governments since Ancient Mesopotamia. It says nothing. The trick is, how do you do it? Do you sacrifice public safety and road resurfacing -- which no one sane would consider luxuries -- to satisfy a no-tax-increase fetish?

Anthony doesn't think so. He's obviously not a fan of higher taxes, either, and he's not looking to line his pockets; unlike his opponent, he not only voted against the last council pay increase, he refused to accept it when it passed. But he's not going to ignore the community's needs when they're staring him, and all of us, in the face.

Think national for a minute. Think back to 1988, and George H.W. Bush, and "Read my lips: No new taxes." Poppy Bush, of course, eventually had to ask Congress to raise taxes. Conservatives did, and do, see this as a shameful capitulation to the forces of Creeping Socialism. That's certainly the lesson the elder Bush's son took with him into the White House. Worked out wonderfully for all of us, didn't it?

The thing is, though, that Bush 41's reneging on his promise may have been his finest hour, at least domestically. It saved the country from the kind of economic catastrophe we've been coping with for the last year or so, and it kept the recession of 1991-92 from being far, far worse. The lesson here shouldn't have been, "Never raise taxes." It should have been, "Don't make that promise in the first place, and do what you have to do for the good of the country."

Or, on a smaller scale, the city of Charlotte.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Working with, not for, Charlotte's developers

Let's get this straight: Both Anthony Foxx and John Lassiter have received campaign contributions from real estate developers. Any serious candidate for office inevitably does.

But let's get this straight, too: Lassiter has received way more in this mayoral campaign than Anthony. And -- the key point -- Lassiter's voting record on the City Council shows he's far more inclined to vote in accordance with their wishes than Anthony.

Toward the end of last night's WCNC-TV/The Charlotte Observer debate, the last one before Election Day, Anthony asked Lassiter flat out: Why do you seem convinced that Charlotte's future lies more with developers than with neighborhoods and communities?

Lassiter's answer revealed plenty about himself, and about who'd have his ear in the mayor's office. "So much of what we need to have happen," he said, "lies with the development community."

Well, there you go. If you had any doubts before, he just dispelled them. Later -- just for emphasis? -- he added this gem: "I want to make sure that I'm working for the same people who invest in me and this community."

Anthony takes a more balanced view of the relationship between city officials and developers. "You've never seen my vote guided by the real estate development community," he said. "I will work with, not for, the real estate development community."

Lassiter got huffy. We enjoy it when Lassiter gets huffy. It makes him fall on his face.

First, he pointed out that Anthony has received more than $7,000 from developer Stoney Sellars. Jim Morrill in the Observer (with an assist from database whiz Ted Mellnik) did a nice job of putting that in context, rendering Lassiter's point essentially meaningless:

An Observer analysis showed that Sellers (sic) has given Foxx at least $7,215. He gave Lassiter $1,000.

The analysis also showed Lassiter has raised at least $104,000 from individual donors who listed occupations in the building, development and real estate industries. That's 20 percent of the money he raised through Oct. 19. The Foxx campaign claims the figure is higher.

Foxx got $28,000, or 5 percent of the money he raised, from individual donors in those industries.

A little later, Lassiter broke out the cheap shot of the night, maybe of the campaign.

Anthony supports "truth in zoning," in which council members voting on rezoning cases publicly disclose campaign contributions they've received from the developers involved. Sounds reasonable enough. But the suggestion clearly irked your Republican candidate for mayor. He observed that Anthony leases his Elizabeth campaign headquarters from neighborhood developer Clay Grubb, and that no one has benefited more from the streetcar tracks running down Elizabeth Avenue than Grubb.

Oh, boy. First, to insinuate there's some kind of quid pro quo arrangement going on between Grubb and Anthony is silly, and more than a little offensive. Does that explain why Anthony voted to override a mayoral veto -- one Lassiter supported -- to kick-start the full, 10-mile streetcar line, running from Beatties Ford Road to Eastland Mall? To help his "buddy" in Elizabeth?

Second, turn your attention back to Nov. 12, 2007, when the City Council voted on whether to spend $5.4 million to build the tracks on Elizabeth Avenue. Guess who not only voted to spend the money, but who made the motion? John Lassiter.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Extending a hand to Raleigh

One offers it in friendship, the other with it clenched. Guess which does which.

It's been one of the biggest issues in the mayoral campaign -- improving the city's often strained relationship with state government. Both Anthony Foxx and John Lassiter say they're committed to it, but only Anthony has the connections, political élan and reservoir of good will in the governor's office and among legislators to actually get something done.

Lassiter is a disciple of the Pat McCrory school of intergovernmental diplomacy, in which you prod state government publicly, invoke Inquisition-like language when promising to "hold their feet to the fire," and organize a Caravan to Raleigh when you think you're not getting your fair share of state dollars. Then run for governor. And lose.

Anthony? This month, Gov. Bev Perdue visited Charlotte for a church visit and a pair of fundraisers with Anthony. She's passionately committed to his success. And why wouldn't she be? He's lauded statewide for building relationships rather than pounding his fist when he doesn't get his way.

Last September, even before he announced he was running for mayor, Anthony convened a series of town hall meetings at the Government Center on growth, criminal justice, the economy and housing. For the criminal justice meeting, he arranged a discussion with Ralph Walker, director of the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts and former state appeals court judge; Police Chief Rodney Monroe; state Sen. Dan Clodfelter, co-chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and perhaps the most influential member of Mecklenburg County's legislative delegation; attorney Thomas Walker; and former Superior Court Judge Shirley Fulton.

That's how Anthony operates.

Lassiter, though, has always operated strictly within the confines of Mecklenburg County. Unlike Anthony, he's never held an office or a job outside Charlotte since he moved here in 1983. And although he gives lip service to the idea of "find(ing) ways to work with the governor," as he said this week during the Jewish Federation/WBTV debate, he hasn't proposed anything specific, and his record shows no indication that he would. Just the opposite.

For one thing, he takes a combative, belligerent tone when talking about getting Interstate 485 finished. From his campaign Web site: "We must fight to get our share of road funding from Raleigh to finish the last leg of I-485 ..."

Contrast that to Anthony, who correctly observed in the same debate that it's hard to build a productive relationship with Raleigh "if you're poking the person you're asking for resources in the eye. I will unclench the fist of this city and extend an outstretched hand to the governor."

For another, Lassiter could extend his vision beyond the county line, something he's never really done. Anthony, from minute one in this campaign, has stressed that Charlotte's future lies largely in regional partnerships with mayors and public officials in Union, Gaston, Cabarrus, Iredell and other regional counties and with mayors of cities throughout the state. The 2010 Census is expected to show a majority of N.C. residents living in urban rather than rural areas, and it'll be more and more important to forge regional and cross-city partnerships to ensure cities get a proportionate share of state funding, for transportation or anything else. The willingness to work this way goes beyond tactics; it's a state of mind. (And don't just take it from us -- take it from N.C. House Speaker Joe Hackney, who should know.)

At the debate, WBTV's Melissa Hankins asked about how the next mayor would try to change the relationship between the city and legislators. Anthony answered: Build individual relationships with state officials and legislators; develop regional economic development projects; and "galvanize the urban strength of the state" through partnerships with other urban mayors.

Lassiter, incredibly, responded that the city should "take control of our own (tax) incentives for business" because state incentives "don't match the needs of our community" and streamline the city's permitting process to ease the regulatory burden on developers.

Pardon? Never mind the fact that Lassiter didn't answer the question. Think about the mindset that produces an answer like that. People everywhere else in North Carolina have a term for it: the Great State of Mecklenburg. It looks inward. Charlotte stands apart. Charlotte can take care of itself. And this was a response to a question specifically about changing the relationship between Charlotte and state government.

Lassiter doesn't get it. He may not be capable of getting it. Once the state finishes I-485, he might as well get behind a new project, the real outer belt: a moat.

This is one of the many reasons why, as Anthony says, "The city needs to break with past leadership."

This is just getting ridiculous

Because it's just not a Charlotte mayoral debate without John Lassiter throwing a last-second hissy fit.

Before last night's Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte debate, televised live by WBTV, the organizers flipped a coin to see who'd be Candidate A (first in opening remarks, second in closing) and Candidate B (vice versa). Anthony called heads. The flip came up heads. Anthony was therefore Candidate A.

Lassiter said he was under the impression that the candidate who opens first shouldn't be allowed to close last. Paul Cameron of WBTV clarified that if Anthony is Candidate A, then he opens first and closes last.

That's when the smoke started coming out of Lassiter's ears -- three minutes before the debate began at 7 p.m.

"That's not fair," he stormed. "Those aren't the rules."

Yes, they were. From the guidelines, which WBTV and the Jewish Federation agreed to and submitted on Oct. 5, more than two weeks before the debate:

The moderators will give each candidate 2 minutes for opening remarks (Candidate A will go first.) ...

The moderators will then give each candidate 2 minutes for closing remarks (Candidate B will go first).

In, calmly, stepped Anthony. OK, he said. I'll allow John to go first in opening, and I'll go second in closing. And so the debate proceeded. (Video here.)

Point No. 1: Lassiter could have objected during the 15 days before the coin toss but didn't. He waited until the toss determined he didn't get the position he wanted. We wonder if he'd have objected if Anthony had called tails and Lassiter had gotten to open first and close last.

Point No. 2: We'd maybe be inclined to presume Lassiter was just confused if this weren't the latest in a string of pre-debate shenanigans Lassiter's pulled over debate rules and other technicalities. This is, as John Turturro's character put it to a competitor in The Big Lebowski, "bush-league psych-out stuff. Laughable, man."

Point No. 3: Could you have asked for a more vivid illustration of why Anthony Foxx would make a better mayor? A problem arises. John Lassiter loses himself in paltry details, appearances and his own well-developed sense of entitlement and self-pity. Anthony Foxx steps in, mediates, offers a workable solution, and everyone gets down to business.

Character reveals itself in all sorts of ways, big and small. Ask yourself: Who handled it better? Who displayed real leadership? Who would you rather have as mayor?