Opinion

Patrick Cannon deserves a second chance. Just not as Charlotte mayor

Patrick Cannon caught on tape in mayor’s office

Patrick Cannon on video tape.
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Patrick Cannon on video tape.

Five years ago, Charlotte endured moments that no city wants to face. A corrupt mayor was nabbed in an FBI sting. There were lurid details of a briefcase stuffed with money, of influence peddled for more dollars, even of Patrick Cannon fanning a stack of cash, B-movie style.

It was a jarring blow to our city, but it was not particularly surprising. Five years later, at least some Charlotteans need to be reminded why.

WSOC-TV’s Joe Bruno reported Tuesday that prominent community leaders are encouraging Cannon, who was released from federal prison less than two years ago, to run for political office again. Corine Mack, local NAACP president and a fundraiser with the Black Leadership Caucus, wants Cannon to run for mayor. “His first 100 days were better than what we got in the last four years, so why not give him another chance,” said Mack, who is frustrated with an increase in crime and gentrification in Charlotte.

The public nudging of Cannon is a way for supporters and Cannon to see if there’s an appetite in Charlotte for his return to office. Certainly, Cannon has every right to pursue whatever post-prison path he chooses, but Charlotte should remember that the former mayor’s downfall was about far more than one mistake. It was about who Cannon had shown himself to be long before he accepted a briefcase full of FBI money.

During Cannon’s 2013 mayoral campaign, the Observer editorial board spoke with almost a dozen community leaders — Democrat, Republican and independent — who had worked with Cannon over the years. That’s not uncommon — we conduct similar interviews regularly for big local and state races — but what we heard was definitely unusual. Each person who spoke to us offered a similar message: Pat Cannon should not be trusted. It wasn’t just that he misled the public about IRS liens a decade before, or that he made campaign claims that were demonstrably false. Cannon’s colleagues believed he saw government as a way to help himself.

Charlotte soon found out how right they were. The most troubling details from Cannon’s arrest weren’t necessarily the briefcase stuffed with cash or lavish trip to Las Vegas, but that for five years Cannon allegedly took money to exert pressure over city zoning, planning and transportation decisions. It’s the kind of corrupt dealing that poisons the public’s faith in government, and it’s a stain that should prevent Cannon’s return to any public office, especially Charlotte mayor.

One more reminder: Although the mayor actually has little official power in Charlotte’s form of government, the person who holds that office has two important roles. The first is to articulate a vision and persuade council members, the city manager, and the public to share it. That requires trust that Cannon forfeited, even before he became mayor.

Equally as critical is the mayor’s other role — as the public face of the city. Cannon’s arrest was deeply embarrassing to Charlotte, and his public return would be the same. We’re a city with many fine people who can lead with integrity — including the mayor we have now. We hope Patrick Cannon earns and gets his second chance at a productive life, but not in the office that serves the public he betrayed.

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A previous version of this editorial incorrectly said Corine Mack is a fundraiser for the Black Political Caucus. She is a fundraiser for the Black Leadership Caucus.

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