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Charlotte mayoral candidate Patrick Cannon seeks balance in government

Mayoral_Candidate_Profiles_06
DAVID T. FOSTER III - dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

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  • Patrick D. Cannon

    Age: 47

    Hometown: Charlotte

    Family: Wife, Trenna; two children, 11 and 14.

    Education: South Mecklenburg High graduate. Earned a degree in communications with a minor in business/marketing from North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro.

    Profession: Founder and chief executive of E-Z Parking, a parking management company.

    Politics: First elected to City Council in 1993 at age 26, one of the youngest elected to the position.

    Civic involvement: Active in groups including the Hospitality and Tourism Alliance Board, Men Who Care Global and is an assistant Little League coach.

    Worth knowing: As a teen in the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program, was assigned a “brother” named Phil McCrory. Later was in Phil McCrory’s wedding party, standing in a tux alongside Phil’s brother Pat, who would go on to become mayor and governor.


  • Cannon on the issues

    Economic development

    Has touted the Capital Improvement Program, which will spend $816 million through 2020, much of it in economically distressed areas. He has cited city estimates in that the spending will create 18,000 jobs. “Anytime there is an opportunity to build up a community we should look and see what can be done to turn it around,” Cannon said in a recent interview.

    Cannon has also generally supported incentive programs to attract large companies to Charlotte. He supported incentives for Chiquita Brands International and United Technologies Corp. This year he voted in favor of a combined $922,000 city/county incentive program for Carowinds in closed session. But he voted against the deal in open session because he said the job salaries were too low.

    Transportation

    Supports all of the Charlotte Area Transit System’s 2030 transit plan. Last year, he expressed reservation over a planned 2.5-mile streetcar extension, briefly questioning whether it was the best way to revitalize Beatties Ford Road and Central Avenue. He voted against the streetcar when the funding plan relied on property taxes.

    In June, he voted in favor of the streetcar when City Manager Ron Carlee created a funding plan that removed property taxes from the funding source.

    Quality of life

    Led efforts to enact a tougher youth curfew in 2011 after an uptown shooting. Helped led efforts to enact a “predatory towing” ordinance with Charlotte Mecklenburg Police in 2010 to give motorists more protection against what some said were unfair towing. Led an effort in 2013 to restore city funding for school police resource officers for Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools.



Democratic mayoral candidate Patrick Cannon keeps one foot planted in Charlotte’s center city neighborhoods.

He was raised in Fairview Homes and Pine Valley public housing. He belongs to a prominent church, The Park Ministries, based on Beatties Ford Road. And he has a longtime radio show on 105.3 FM, in which he discusses local and national political issues for a mostly African-American audience.

“You are aiming with Cannon, live ... Patrick D., that is,” said Cannon during an interview, reciting the intro to his show and morphing into his radio voice that he often uses during City Council meetings.

But Cannon, who has been on City Council longer than any current member, is also in tune with the city’s Republican, fiscally conservative suburban residents.

As his parking management business grew, he and and his family moved to a neighborhood outside Ballantyne. His two children attend Charlotte Christian, a private south Charlotte school. And his family sometimes attends Elevation Church, an evangelical church in Blakeney.

Cannon explained in an interview that his wife and daughters enjoy Elevation as a “change of pace.”

He added: “I think balance is good.”

Those who know Cannon say his personal life offers insight into how he would lead as mayor. Cannon supports traditional Democratic causes, but his deliberations and ultimate decisions are influenced by a conservative streak that former mayor Anthony Foxx didn’t share.

Cannon, for example, backed a Democratic-inspired tax increase to support an $816 million capital improvement program. But he did so only after a 12-month fight in which he helped lead an effort to remove a property tax increase to pay for a streetcar.

He did the same with a proposal to fund an uptown baseball stadium. He only supported the deal after the city’s contribution was reduced from $11 million to $8 million, and no property taxes were used.

Former Republican City Council member Don Reid, a conservative, served with Cannon last decade.

“I don’t think he is an ideologue at all,” Reid said. He said despite pressure from Democratic constituents, “he’s in moderation.”

The issues on which he has been most out front – and most willing to lead – have often been issues that were morality based. He protested the Charlotte Area Transit System’s decision to put alcohol ads on buses and trains. He successfully led a push to toughen a youth curfew in the wake of a 2011 uptown shooting death after Food Lion Speed Street.

Despite sometimes siding with the council’s two Republicans, Cannon won the endorsement of the influential Charlotte-Mecklenburg Black Political Caucus, both in the September primary and the general election. And he received the overwhelming support of black voters in his primary win over James Mitchell in September.

Dwayne Collins, a former leader of the caucus, said people remember his long history of service in the black community.

He cited Cannon’s efforts in the mid-1990s to create the police Citizens Review Board, which was designed to restore public confidence in police after three unarmed African-Americans had been killed by white officers.


Opponent: Watch Edwin Peacock’s video

“In (its infancy) it was called ‘the Cannon Amendment,’” Collins said. “We formed a brotherhood over that that still extends to this day.”

Six years ago, Collins was an ardent supporter of building a streetcar in east and west Charlotte. But Cannon’s hesitation over building it hasn’t cost him Collins’ support, even though Cannon was a key vote that delayed the project by at least a year.

“It wasn’t a major concern,” Collins said. “From my understanding, he was trying to look at it from all perspectives before he made his initial stand.”

‘Establishment’ chose Mitchell

Cannon easily defeated council member James Mitchell in the primary. Cannon won west Charlotte, the east side, the Beatties Ford Road corridor and University City. He won among his neighbors in Ballantyne.

But he expressed disappointment that he did not win over more of the city’s longtime Democrats in the city’s southern “wedge,” where more voters backed Mitchell.

“For all that I have done relative to cultural arts, sports and entertainment opportunities, I felt it would have counted for something,” Cannon said about not receiving the support of uptown and its leaders.

He attributed part of the problem to a 2012 vote in which he supported selling the dilapidated Carolina Theatre to Rick and Noah Lazes of the N.C. Music Factory, instead of giving it to the Foundation for the Carolinas, a philanthropic powerhouse.

The Lazes offered the city $500,000. The foundation wanted the property for free.

“I didn’t think it made people too happy,” Cannon said. “But I felt like it made good business sense.”

Cannon failed to win the support of some prominent Democrats, including Cameron Harris. Harris said he remains upset about a soured business deal he and his wife Dee Dee had with Cannon years ago. Cannon said he was trying to help the couple and did nothing wrong. The Harrises gave $6,000 to Mitchell’s campaign.

Cannon has also faced questions about a contract between his parking lot management company, E-Z Parking, and the city’s tourism authority.

In 2011, he voted to give the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority $7.5 million while he held a no-bid contract to manage a CRVA parking lot on Caldwell Street. City Attorney Bob Hagemann said Cannon’s CRVA vote does not violate state conflict of interest law.

The N.C. Republican Party, after an Observer story about the vote, called it a “sweetheart deal.”

At odds with Foxx

If elected, Cannon’s votes on council suggest he would govern differently from Foxx, a Democrat who is now U.S. Secretary of Transportation.

During his most recent four years on City Council, Cannon often opposed Foxx on a number of positions.

Foxx wanted to study consolidating city and county government. Cannon voted against that.

Foxx wanted to withhold money from the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority to force former chief executive Tim Newman from office. Cannon voted against it.

Foxx’s pet project, the streetcar? Cannon helped delay it for more than a year, until it was no longer funded with property taxes.

In the decision over the Carolina Theatre sale, the foundation’s proposal was supported by Foxx allies, such as Mitchell and David Howard.

Some council members complained privately that Cannon was more interested in blocking Foxx’s agenda than saving taxpayers’ money. At one point during the heated budget negotiations in 2012, council member LaWana Mayfield snapped that one council member should stop thinking about the next election – a reference to Cannon.

Cannon denied he had any rivalry with Foxx, who became mayor four years after first being elected to City Council. Cannon was first elected in 1993.

“None whatsoever,” he said. “I have always done what I felt was in the best interest of the city. I have never made time for political games. Life is short, and I have lived more than half of it.”

Building bridges

While Cannon has angered some council members, he has also shown he can build coalitions – something Foxx was sometimes either unwilling or uninterested in doing.

Two years ago, Democrat Beth Pickering, a political newcomer, won an at-large seat after Foxx’s re-election campaign drew many Democrats to the polls.

Pickering came to council with negligible experience. Foxx didn’t reach out to her. Cannon did.

“I think Patrick is better at communicating with everyone,” said Pickering, who often voted with Cannon in the last two years.

Cannon is also known for enjoying, or at least being willing to participate in, some of the basics of being a city council member: attending homeowners meetings, talking with constituents.

Cannon, for instance, has a significant amount of support from the city’s Asian-American community, which is unusual for a city official.

“He’s getting the support from the Asian-American communities because he cares,” said Vinay Patel said, a hotel owner and board member of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. “He has been to the temples a couple of times. He will be at the Indian festival, speaking to folks.”

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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