By now, most of you have heard of former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon’s self-induced fall from grace. Rumors have circulated around him for years, and while a lot of us are not surprised he is seeing trouble, I do not think anyone expected this. Of course, Cannon is innocent until proven guilty, but that hasn’t stopped most of us from accepting the contents of the affidavit as the truth.
Steve asked in a comment on BlueNC earlier this week how Charlotte voters could elect Patrick Cannon if there were so many rumors flying around about him. It’s a good question, without a good answer, or it may be better to say it doesn’t have a simple answer.
Hang around in political circles long enough and you will hear just about every rumor that can be told about a person - some are even true. In his two decades in politics Patrick Cannon has had time to develop quite a collection of rumors. Most have involved marital infidelity or shady business practices. Few, if any, have a victim, witness, or participant willing to come forward. It is why they are still rumors and after a while rumors are discredited or forgotten.
2005 Mayoral Run
Cannon entered politics more than a decade before his first mayoral run. In 2005, Cannon’s campaign floundered before he ever made it to the primary. There were rumors he was playing fast and loose under the sheets with someone who wasn’t his wife, but today those are still just rumors.
After Cannon withdrew from the race to spend more time with his family, Creative Loafing published a piece by Tara Servatius that did a good job of explaining some of the underlying issues for Cannon and how he had fallen into and out of favor in the African American community - an important base of power in Charlotte politics.
The problems that would eventually hamstring Cannon's campaign started in 1999, when young African-American upstart Malcolm Graham won a district seat on City Council. Unlike Cannon, who had paid his dues and been pulled up through the ranks by the African-American community's old political guard, Graham won his seat by defeating a member of that old guard. Like Cannon, Graham had mayoral ambitions and might one day even like to take a crack at winning the congressional seat held by Mel Watt in largely African-American Congressional District 12. The two men were almost bound to clash, and quickly did.
When Graham voted to abolish a contracting program that favored minorities — after the city attorney advised it was unconstitutional and could result in a costly court battle the city would ultimately lose — Cannon and other old guarders like City Councilman James Mitchell used the vote to isolate Graham, who spent months repairing the damage within the black community.
Malcolm Graham decided to run for the legislature in 2004 and instead of letting him exit the city council quietly and represent Charlotte in Raleigh, Cannon and friends doubled down.
Whatever the case, the gentlemanly thing to do would have been to let Graham step aside gracefully. Instead, Cannon, Mitchell and some other old guarders such as former Caucus chairman Eric Douglas worked against Graham in a move many saw as an attempt to finish off a political rival. It didn't help matters that Graham's opponent, longtime state legislator Fountain Odom, was white and that 60 percent of the voters in the primary were black. The county's African-American ministers, whose informal, behind-the-pulpit influence is often critical, backed Graham, who clobbered his opponent 63 percent to 37 percent in the newly created district. The Black Political Caucus, which once was dominated by the old guarders, also backed Graham. It was a stunning defeat for those who had worked to kill off Graham, and it caused bitter feelings that would come back to haunt Cannon in his short-lived mayoral run.
One thing not mentioned in the piece is that Cannon’s claim he wanted to refocus on his family may not have been the only reason he wanted out of the public eye. It soon surfaced that Cannon was in trouble with the Internal Revenue Service and faced tax liens of $193,000.
In 2013, Cannon ran in the Democratic primary against James Mitchell. Mitchell is extremely well thought of, he works hard, and he is honest. The one thing that Cannon supporters could find to pick on was his nickname - Smuggie. Admittedly, it may not be the most refined moniker, but it doesn’t disqualify him from holding office.
Cannon, it appears, did a better job than Mitchell of healing old wounds within the Black Political Caucus and with African American voters. Once back in their good graces, Cannon was able to move forward. He also had a great deal of support among white Democrats and seemed to repair his image somewhat. Old rumors were forgotten and new rumors apparently were ignored.
Cannon also had momentum. Old guard pols and political newcomers alike jumped on his bandwagon. One of the hardest working women in Charlotte politics, Leigh Rose, worked on the Cannon campaign. Leigh is a relative newcomer, but not someone who would overlook or excuse the mess that hovered around Cannon. She has quickly earned the respect of those of us who watch Charlotte politics and her support carries some weight. He must have done a very good job at fooling people.
Cannon also had the avid support of long-time political advisor Dan McCorkle who, according to the Business Journal, gave Cannon informal campaign advice McCorkle also took on the Charlotte Observer’s editorial board over their claim of and apologies for inaccuracies in an editorial that Patrick Cannon wrote for the paper. McCorkle’s visibility and the respect he carried in some circles helped promote Cannon as the viable candidate.
Finally, NCDP Chair Randy Voller encouraged Democrats to run a unified campaign. I know Patrick Cannon, Michael Barnes, and Claire Fallon campaigned together. Vi Alexander Lyles, Greg Phipps, and Al Austin may also have worked with the “unified” campaign, but not all Democrats joined in. This may have provided part of the push Cannon needed in the general election to beat moderate Republican Edwin Peacock.
As you can see there were a number of factors at work that helped Cannon win last November. The one legal issue from the past - the tax liens - Cannon satisfied rather quickly and what was left were rumors of infidelity. I know, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. The problem is there never really was that one bit of evidence needed to confirm the rumors.
I guess that won't be a problem anymore