Charlotte city leaders hope Patrick Cannon’s expected guilty plea means city can move on

Charlotte City Council members said Monday they hope former Mayor Patrick Cannon’s expected guilty plea will let the city move on from federal corruption charges that have been looming over local government since Cannon’s arrest in March.

One City Council member said the charges have been the “elephant in the room” since FBI agents posing as developers solicited Cannon for help in exchange for tens of thousands of dollars worth of cash bribes.

“If that news brings a conclusion to this sad matter and we can move ahead, then I would be very pleased,” said City Council member Ed Driggs.

But the guilty plea could call into question other functions of city and county government because of new allegations that a local businessman paid Cannon bribes for years in exchange for help with his adult entertainment club in the path of the CATS Blue Line light-rail extension.

“I’m hoping that, as quickly as possible, they can bring to light all of the things that need to be exposed and we can resume government in Charlotte the way we have in the past,” Driggs said.

Council member Kenny Smith said he hoped the plea would bring “closure to the whole affair.”

“The story has been looming over us ever since it happened, but it’s not been a distraction,” Smith said. “We’ve been hard at work and (new Mayor Dan Clodfelter) has done a good job of keeping us focused on the issues.

“But it has been the elephant in the room, and everybody has been waiting for it to play out. Not just for us, but the whole city,” he said.

Told about the possible influence on the CATS Blue Line, Smith said he had faith in “the way CATS is running its operation. I’m not worried.”

Cannon is accused of accepting a series of bribes from a businessman in exchange for help with zoning, planning and transportation department issues to make it easier to keep the businessman’s club in business after the Blue Line extension. The club was in the Blue Line’s path.

In a joint statement, City Manager Ron Carlee and Clodfelter echoed the hope that the plea deal could bring the episode to an end.

“It is our hope that this filing will advance the resolution of the case at the earliest possible date. The City continues to cooperate fully with federal investigators in order to deal appropriately with any allegations of wrongdoing,” they wrote.

Claire Fallon, an at-large member of the City Council, said she’s ready for the whole thing to be over.

“I wish it hadn’t happened, and I wish it would go away,” Fallon said. “It’s made everybody think we’re all a bunch of crooks, which we aren’t. I like Patrick and feel so sorry for his family.

“I don’t know what Patrick was thinking. It’s just so hurtful. He had so much promise.”

Staff writers David Perlmutt and Elizabeth Leland contributed