Cover Story: Campaign 2009 Charlotte Mayor

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The first open seat for Charlotte mayor in 14 years.  Tuesday night, the candidates trying to get your vote, are going toe-to-toe.  Voters believe it's an important election but say they can't distinguish between the candidates.  How do Lassiter and Foxx break out of the pack?  PrimeTime's Jeff Atkinson has a look in our Cover Story.

In a new public opinion poll from Elon University residents were asked which candidate for mayor is better on which issue and "don't know" wins.

They have the backing of their respective parties.. Democrat Anthony Foxx and Republican John Lassiter.

But to win the election for Charlotte Mayor on November 3rd they need to appeal to the vast number of voters who aren't tied either party.

And right now from a scientific public opinion poll from Elon University.. the mayoral race is wide open.

"The candidates need to define themselves to the public."

Authors of the Elon University poll released the results ahead of tonight's mayoral debate at Johnson C. Smith University.

Both Lassiter and Foxx are city council members who share similar voting records.. but are not well known.

And neither has the gregarious personality of a Pat McCrory who's held onto the mayor's office 14 years.. longer than anyone in Charlotte history.

Dr. Ted Arrington.. UNC Charlotte political scientist who's followed Charlotte politics for almost 4 decades.

He says, "These are much more business like.. both of them. They're policy wonks. They both know about policy for the city. They both care about the city."

But the Elon Poll found a large number of Charlotte voters can't tell the difference between the two men.

Which is why pollsters believe tonight in this auditorium at JCSU we could start to see the candidates begining to draw a more of a distinction between themselves.

How do they do that? Malcom Graham.. a student of politics and a current North Carolina State Senator.  He says, "Mr. Lassiter or Mr. Foxx has to find that issue that really appeals to the citizens' emotions. And do it in a way that people feel good about going out and supporting them. They haven't done that thus far."

What issues resonate with voters?.. the Elon Poll found issues of education.


And transportation.

Issues the mayor has limited authority over..

But as the city's political leader can use his bully pulpit to enact change.

Pollster Hunter Bacot says since many voters aren't as involved in local politics as national.. they tend to abdicate that responsiblity to leaders they trust.

"And so not only is it they have to have personality they have to project trust and confidence among the public and whoever can do that with the right issues and get that core center to move their direction will probably be the one who's sucessful."

There's not much time.. the election is six weeks from Tuesday.

And with a race this close.. any misstep - a misquote can turn the tide.

Lassiter has more money.. a 3-to-1 advantage.. he's got billboards, radio ads and mailings.

But Foxx could take a play from the Obama campaign with a strong grass roots get-out-the vote effort.

First open seat in 14 years.. some believe Charlotte is at a crossroads.

Some see the city at a turning point and the mayor taking on an even greater role.. that's due to the city's business titans (who once were the leaders) are tied up in their own troubles running their own companies.