Martin Davis and John Lassiter, Charlotte’s two main Republican mayoral candidates, on Tuesday laid out competing visions for leadership, especially when dealing with some of the Qcity’s social ills.
Davis, a self-described Christian conservative, repeated his often-stated belief in smaller government, saying his primary aim would be lower taxes and public safety, not addressing the wants and needs of individual groups.
“I believe in freedom,” he told the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum in west Charlotte. “I’m going to do everything I can to limit the size and scope of local government. I’m determined to treat everybody in this community absolutely equally.”
Lassiter, a two-term at-large city council member, said he, too, supports smaller government, but he vowed to be visible in individual communities seeking solutions to common problems.
“I don’t take a different message to the African American community than the one I take to the Asian community or the white community,” said Lassiter, widely seen as the GOP frontrunner for the Sept. 15 primary.
Along with fellow Republican Jack Stratton, Davis and Lassiter are vying to challenge Democratic nominee Anthony Foxx, an at-large city council member who’s running unopposed in his party’s primary.
Stratton was not present at the Tuesday forum.
Lassiter, who has campaigned extensively in the African American community, predicted that he would win a double-digit share of the black vote in a November matchup with Foxx, who is African American.
Davis declined to speculate on how he might fair with black voters.
The candidates’ forum began with Davis ticking off a list of concerns – crime, congested roads, high taxes and rising unemployment – that he said he’d seek to address as mayor. He listed crime as the No. 1 reason for poverty in Charlotte, which drew a skeptical response from some in the audience.
Davis said that crime not only cuts into the profits of small businesses, but that it also discourages business owners from locating in some communities.
Lassiter disagreed, listing poor education and “third-party actions” as contributing to poverty.
Both candidates said they’d push state government for more money to operate local courts, and both blamed underfunding of Mecklenburg courts for contributing to the area’s crime rate. Because of backlogged courts, Lassiter said, too many criminals are walking around confident that they can avoid punishment.
Both men praised Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe for putting more cops on the street, but both also said more officers are needed.
In the end, the two men appeared to disagree most on the role of government.
While Lassiter took credit for a laundry list of local projects he helped jumpstart as chairman of the city’s Economic Development/Planning Committee, Davis said government has no business taking sides in free markets. He was especially critical of the city’s role in building the Time Warner Cable Arena and the U.S. National Whitewater Center.
Davis also repeated his call to sell off some city-owned assets, such as Charlotte/Douglas international Airport, to raise revenue and lower taxes.
“We take an enormous amount of money and put it into trinkets, and we’ve got core problems that we will not address,” Davis said. “We are suffering from overarching, tyrannical government.”
Lassiter, meanwhile, criticized his own party for not doing enough to expand its base beyond traditional conservatives or to recruit minorities.
“I’m not going to sit down every day and try to satisfy the conservative wing of the Republican party,” he said. “There are some things I agree with an some things I don’t.”
Both candidates said they would oppose any city mandate requiring developers to include low-income housing in all future projects. They both also said they oppose current efforts to reform the nation’s health care system.