Former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon, in his first public appearance since being released from federal prison on corruption charges, said Saturday he is focused on being the “best father, husband and son he can be” – but didn’t rule out running for office again.
“Anything else is God’s will,” Cannon said.
Cannon, a Democrat, was part of a forum held by the Black Political Caucus for people considering running for public office. For nearly three hours, Cannon and two other former officials gave advice to audience of 100 about fund raising, opposition research and making contacts.
Cannon didn’t address his 2014 guilty plea on federal corruption charges, and no one in the audience asked him about his downfall, even in the context of avoiding temptations as an elected official.
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Reporters asked him about his charges after the forum, and Cannon demurred. He said since his release from a federal prison in West Virginia in September, he has “only seen love and support.”
When asked whether his political advice should be heeded, Cannon said, “What’s important is to make sure that anyone vying for office can have an opportunity...to engage with officials. Hopefully this day was something that people could get something out of.”
Cannon was charged with public corruption after taking more than $50,000 in bribes, mostly from undercover FBI agents posing as out-of-town real estate developers. The last installment – and the biggest chunk – changed hands in the mayor’s Government Center office.
Cannon’s probation ends in 2019, when his right to vote – and run for elected office – returns. That’s also a city council election year.
Since his house arrest ended in late January the former mayor has been taking baby steps to return to public life.
Since early April, Cannon has hosted a Saturday morning radio show on Old School 105.3. But the forum was his first appearance before a crowd, and he shared the stage with Arthur Griffin and Wilhelmenia Rembert, both former Board of Education members.
Dressed in a black vest and light green tie, Cannon appeared relaxed and was smiling as he recounted his political career. Cannon was greeted warmly by the crowd, and after the forum many people embraced him and took photos with him.
“I would suggest you have to be in this arena to help someone help themselves,” he said during his opening remarks at C.N. Jenkins Memorial Presbyterian Church on Statesville Avenue.
Cannon only briefly touched upon the current mayor’s race, in which Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles and State Sen. Joel Ford are challenging Jennifer Roberts in the Democratic primary. Cannon questioned whether sniping between Roberts and Ford will be beneficial to either side.
At times during the forum, Cannon was guarded, only offering platitudes. In other instances, he spoke freely about what it takes to run for office.
▪ On fund raising: “If you want to raise funds, mind you, you will have to burn the phones up, day in and day out. I’m sure there are candidates for a certain office (Charlotte mayor) who are on the phone right now. If I wanted to raise $10,000 I would invite 10 people and give them a charge or ask humbly if one person would raise $1,000. Now you have your ten grand. You can scale it down, scale it up.”
▪ On name recognition: “I knocked on all of those houses of worship doors to see the pastors of those churches. It was through that experience that now you can take on some hard questions. If you could hang with that, you could hang with a lot. If they liked you, they become your mouth piece. Your name would grow legs, in a way that didn’t cost you anything.”
▪ On meeting people: “You want to be visible and go to different board meetings. If you can find a current elected official that will talk to you, they too can be become an advocate. Go to fundraisers. You may not have a nickel in your picket to give. Who said you have to? Some people are nosy. At a fundraiser people will say, ‘Who are you?’ Before you know it, your name is beginning to travel.”
▪ On technology: “It’s really changed the way we do things...Some people don’t like robo-calls, but there is something else called voice drops. It’s the latest. It’s good for promoters. Your phone will not ring but you will see at some point you have a message in your phone...for someone vying for office.”
▪ Researching your opponent: “If you are running against an incumbent, it’s not so much what they did, but what they didn’t do. I’ll be quite honest, in my campaigns, we had a researcher but I didn’t care what you were doing on your side...When we were vying for mayor, my opponent in the primary (James Mitchell) started throwing all sorts of zingers out there. But I was getting feedback, or intel, saying don’t respond. You can look at a race coming up now and seeing two people going at it. That could hurt them or it could help. It’s a balance.”
▪ On speaking with the media: “If you are dealing with the media, find a way to control what the message is. As what the angle is. If you don’t know what the angle is, you will be caught flat-footed...Everybody has an angle. What is it?”