Scandal rocks the Queen City
The city of Charlotte has been dealt a major blow, and many are wondering how the city will rebuild its booming reputation after the recent news of political corruption.
“I look good in an orange neck tie, but not in an orange suit.” Suggestive comments such as this one by former mayor Patrick Cannon are found throughout the criminal complaint filed by the FBI. The quotes and allegations leave little room for doubt: Cannon knew exactly what he was doing when he accepted flights, lavish hotel rooms, thousands of dollars in cash, and other bribes in return for his “services” as a prominent politician. What he did not know, however, was that the men and women supplying him with these outlandish gifts were undercover agents, keen on the corruption that was taking place.
”I look good in an orange neck tie, but not in an orange suit.” – Patrick Cannon
Cannon had been under FBI investigation since August 2010 when a local police officer provided a tip regarding the then-city council member’s corruption. During the course of the investigation, Cannon rose to the seat of Charlotte Mayor after Anthony Foxx left the position to become Transportation Secretary for the Obama Administration.
Since the news of Cannon’s arrest on March 26, many are recalling the various rumors of the politician’s unsavory past, realizing they were not simply “rumors” after all. A source that apparently knew of Cannon’s dishonesty before the recent charges was the cab company Charlotte Taxi Drivers. Under the veil of the company, someone involved with the group alluded to Cannon’s troubled past by writing a note on the Facebook page dedicated the former city councilman, just months before he was elected mayor:
Patrick D Cannon Might be the most corrupt man in Charlotte. Taking inside money. No way, he’s going to get the taxi drivers votes. He has too many skeletons in his closet for him to even run for mayor. Don’t even try it pat (sic).
“I could never satisfy myself that the city and his job as mayor took precedence over his self-interests.”
Under no such veil of anonymity, Parks Helms, a fixture in the Democratic Party of North Carolina, commented on his weariness of Cannon from the start:
I’ve always felt a sense of concern about Patrick…I always wondered if he had the depth of character, the depth of commitment to the city…I could never satisfy myself that the city and his job as mayor took precedence over his self-interests.
While it is evident that the rumblings of Cannon’s deceitfulness had been brewing for a long time, many of his close friends and supporters were nevertheless shocked by the news. Once such friend and supporter takes the form of Pat McCrory, North Carolina Governor. McCrory told reporters that he is “heartbroken” and “angry” about what is going on—not just for his colleague, but for the city that he knows so well. McCrory stated that he has known Cannon for over thirty years, and that their relationship began long before any politics would have brought them together.
McCrory’s older brother was Cannon’s companion in the Big Brother Big Sister program, and McCrory recalls helping teach Cannon how to swim when Cannon was just thirteen years old. While McCrory undoubtedly has mixed emotions about the troubles of his long-time friend, he is even more concerned with the troubles that face the city in which he was once the mayor himself.
Gov. McCrory undoubtedly has mixed emotions about the troubles of his long-time friend, but he is even more concerned with the troubles that face the city in which he was once the mayor himself.
Concern for the city of Charlotte has many wondering what will happen next. Dealing with the suddenly vacant mayoral seat poses numerous issues, especially in a sprawling metropolis as large as Charlotte—North Carolina’s largest city. Most solutions to this type of dilemma are somewhat temporary while officials decide how best to resolve matters and rebuild the city’s political landscape.
Michael Barnes, Mayor Pro Tem, took on the role abandoned by Cannon but was not a permanent replacement. In fact, state senator Daniel Clodfelter was chosen by the City Council on April 7 to serve as Mayor. The process of acquiring a new mayor sans election was nothing new to the city of Charlotte, and the selection procedure worked much like it did in 2013 when Foxx left the office for the Obama Administration. For an appointee to be considered, he or she was required to be a Charlotte city resident and also of the same political affiliation as the former mayor—in this case, the Democratic Party. Clodfelter will hold office until December 2015, a month after the next scheduled election, until a new mayor is sworn in.
The City Council will be able to choose a new leader without holding an election, but will have to follow certain guidelines.
Other solutions to the political turmoil are not quite as systematic and clear-cut, however. When asked at a news conference whether the city will rethink political decisions that Cannon’s votes have influenced as a city councilman, Barnes had no clear answer. “That will be up to the U.S. attorney. We have no control over what they do.”
One of the issues that might be re-examined was a 2012 plan to extend a streetcar system, for example. The plan proposed to source the funds for the project with city property taxes, and Cannon voted against it. A year later, he voted for a similar streetcar extension plan, this time with the funds to be allocated partly from city reserves, and partly from a federal match.
Amidst the immediate uncertainty created by the situation, there is consternation regarding how this will affect the city’s future. The city’s reputation had been on the rise for years when it was hit with this blow. There is fear that Charlotte’s lure as a major banking hub and thriving city full of professional athletic teams will be affected. McCrory said the city of Charlotte and its leaders “used the high ethical standards of our city government as a recruitment tool. That’s why this makes me even more angry because it destroys a reputation that is well deserved for many, many years.”
The city of Charlotte has always prided itself on having “good, clean government.”
Helms echoed the Governor’s sentiments, stating that the city of Charlotte has always prided itself on having “good, clean government.” He imagines that the city’s sullied reputation will be difficult to repair, at least in the short term. Rebuilding trust—especially in the political arena—is no easy task. Only time will tell if the city of Charlotte will be able to overcome the repercussions of this major scandal.