It’s like reading a movie script. A corrupt public official peddles his influence, lies to “foreign investors” and takes payoffs in a leather briefcase. There’s a trip to Las Vegas in there, plus a Hollywood line about looking better in an orange tie than an orange jumpsuit. There’s even a stack of money being fanned.
But the charges against Patrick DeAngelo Cannon are not a Hollywood script. And it’s not about just any public official. It’s Charlotte’s mayor. He was right to resign on Wednesday.
Cannon, of course, is legally innocent until proven otherwise. He may claim that he believed at least some of the $48,000 he took from undercover federal agents was about business investments, not public favors. But the criminal threshold for guilt is not relevant to whether Cannon should have continued in office. The allegations in the criminal complaint are so serious – and the evidence so detailed – that he could no longer have been an effective mayor.
Those allegations include Cannon receiving $6,000 and airfare for a 2013 trip with his wife to Las Vegas, where the mayor lied to people he thought were investors about his role in helping Charlotte’s Metropolitan development become a reality. The allegations also include him telling a similar lie to another “investor,” this time in February in the mayor’s office, where he accepted that leather briefcase containing $20,000 in cash.
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The affidavit supporting the charges also contains transcripts from recorded conversations in which Cannon clearly indicates he can help smooth the way for projects in Charlotte.
Despite the many alleged boasts of influence, the mayor actually has little official power in Charlotte’s form of government. His importance comes from his ability to articulate a vision and persuade council and the manager to join him. To do that, however, he must have their trust. Even before entering office, Cannon had alienated many colleagues throughout the years with what they considered a seamy and less-than-selfless approach to public service. It was difficult to imagine, given the allegations, how Cannon could have repaired or maintained those relationships.
Equally as important was his other role – the public face for our city. Right now, that face may endure a long and embarrassing trial for corruption. By resigning, he spares Charlotte at least some of the ignominy of what’s to come.
Still, our city may have to face more. Wednesday’s criminal complaint referred to an additional ongoing investigation involving Cannon and a Charlotte businessman, as well as the FBI investigating other unspecified individuals and potentially criminal activities. The affidavit also mentions Cannon encouraging undercover officers to contact city officials. City Manager Ron Carlee, in conjunction with the federal investigation, should ensure that all city personnel are conducting themselves with the highest ethical standards.
At the least, Charlotte appears to have joined the sad fraternity of cities with not only public corruption, but corruption at the highest level. There may, however, be a silver lining here. If the allegations are true, Patrick Cannon may have been caught before he could do years of damage to his office, the culture of city government, and Charlotte. We should be relieved to have this cancer gone now.