Charlotte mayor's arrest shatters a public trust

March 27, 2014 

Patrick Cannon served nearly 20 years on the Charlotte City Council before being elected mayor in November. The 47-year-old appeared to have a bright political career ahead of him as the top elected official in North Carolina’s largest city.

Instead, he’ll face federal charges related to an FBI sting operation. The U.S. attorney says the theft and bribery charges could result in 50 years in prison and a seven-figure fine. Cannon is innocent until proven guilty, of course. It will be interesting to see how his defense unfolds. He has resigned as mayor.

Authorities say he took bribes five times from FBI agents posing as developers or business people interested in having the skids greased to benefit their interests in Charlotte. Cannon, they said, was willing to help. Benefits included cash and at one point, authorities say, a trip to Las Vegas.

These same authorities say the last payment to Cannon was $20,000 in cash on Feb. 21 in the mayor’s office.

An affidavit filed in the case says Cannon boasted to the undercover agents of his connections and influence in the city. The implication in some of the conversations was that Cannon could help with zoning issues when it came to developments, particularly around transit sites.

The charges have shocked Charlotte, a city that prides itself on clean government. One former Charlotte mayor, Pat McCrory, now sits in the governor’s office. Cannon’s predecessor, Anthony Foxx, is the U.S. secretary of transportation.

There are hard days ahead for Cannon. This episode, regardless of its outcome, underlines the trust, responsibility and power the public puts in local elected officials. Anyone in a mayor’s office or on a city council needs to remember that public service, not self-advancement, is the one and only point of elective office at the municipal level.

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