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FBI claims of Patrick Cannon’s greed betray Charlotte’s history

By Mark Washburn

“Under my leadership as chair of Community Safety, the overall crime rate in Charlotte has decreased. … Continuing to be tough on crime will remain my aim.”

– Patrick Cannon, October 2003

We’re a big city now.

For the first time since 1861, when the office was created, Charlotte has a mayor facing corruption charges. That doesn’t exactly put us in the same league as Chicago or New Orleans, but it’s a mighty blotch for a city that brags about clean government when recruiting businesses.

We often joke about our “world class” pretensions, but the fact is that Charlotte is largely a city that’s proud of itself. Manners and appearances are kept up. Charlotte wears pearls and says “Thank you.” It’s a blend of Northern commerce and Southern charm.

It owes all this to generations of great leadership, to people of vision and energy and pride. They built a sparkling Emerald City on grimy Piedmont clay, then wooed an NFL franchise to boot.

“Mayor and council members must be aware of their obligation to conform their behavior to standards of ethical conduct that warrant the trust of their constituents. Each official must find within his or her own conscience the touchstone by which to determine what conduct is appropriate.”

– Charlotte Code of Ethics

What makes the Patrick Cannon scandal sting so much worse are the tawdry details contained in the FBI affidavit. A briefcase stuffed with cash delivered to the mayor’s office overlooking uptown, payoffs in a Vegas resort, the image of Cannon putting a stack of bills to his face and fanning through them.

It’s pitiful.

The FBI’s allegations against Cannon, if true, represent a betrayal of not only his city and his constituents, but the very people who have occupied the office before him. Yes, it’s a part-time job that pays only $23,052, but one with considerable clout and potential.

He is descended from a line that includes such mayors as John Belk, Stan Brookshire and Ben Douglas.

They are remembered as leaders who guided the city through tough times to a greater future. Cannon will be remembered as the guy who fanned the cash.

We can thank Cannon for one thing. He taught us a lesson about ourselves.

Charlotte is indeed the kind of city where a kid can grow up poor and reach the heights. But once there, you face a character decision – whether to be a great man, or a very small one.

“I’m always surprised when people ask me why I want to be mayor in a city with a weak mayor form of government, where the position pays very little and has ‘no real authority.’ … As a native Charlottean, I cannot think of a more rewarding job.”

Patrick Cannon, October 2013

Washburn: 704-358-5007
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