Commentary

Saunders: Charlotte Mayor Cannon provides a sad lesson

bsaunders@newsobserver.comApril 2, 2014 

Like you, my first thought was, “Wow. Look at how far Charlotte will go to top Raleigh.”

After all, why else, if not to outshine its Capital City neighbor, would Charlotte’s mayor go and get himself busted in a federal sting that has become international news?

It certainly couldn’t have been for the penny ante payoffs federal undercover agents made to ex-mayor Patrick “Summer’s Eve” Cannon. Didn’t the dude see “American Hustle,” the hit movie about greedy politicians and the seemingly seedy businessmen eager to grease their palms in exchange for influence?

Dang, man. It was in all of the theaters.

Upon closer review, though, it is obvious to anyone with a discerning eye that no one could be as stupid as Cannon appeared to be in succumbing to the suckerish con – especially not for the $48,000 the government contends he accepted.

For instance, an undercover agent allegedly gave the mayor and his wife $1,000 of SAM – strolling around money – when they arrived in Las Vegas. They were there presumably to con some businessmen on the agent’s behalf and perhaps take in a show. If you’ve been to Vegas lately, you know that for $1,000 you couldn’t get a fake Gucci, a good meal and see Siegfried & Roy if they were still performing.

Roy, maybe, but not Siegfried, too.

Charlotte residents, never known for their humility, should legitimately be offended that he’d sell them and himself so cheaply.

“Summer’s Eve”?

I’ll explain it later. For now, though, it’s enough to say that far from being the rapacious rogue media reports are presenting him to be, I prefer to think Mayor Loose Cannon was merely running a double-reverse sting on the Feds in order to demonstrate for other aspiring leaders and politicians that crime doesn’t pay.

Why, just last week in Charlotte, Cannon’s message got through like a punch in the gut to participants in a wonderful organization called YBM – Young Black Men.

“Punched in the gut” is how some of the young men at the 7-year-old organization’s annual leadership conference looked on TV last week as they emerged from various meetings and workshops. The stench from Cannon’s arrest still wafted throughout the city while John Martin, founder of YBM, and others mentored the academically high-achieving young men on how to become respected community and city leaders.

Just as important, they used Cannon to demonstrate how not to become a respected leader.

“Mayor Cannon was a big supporter of ours and had done really good work with us,” Martin told me this week. He said he tried to use what happened to Cannon as “a teachable moment. We had conversations around the reason we started the organization. It was to help our young men develop that character and integrity early on.

“We were saying even before this happened that we want to work with them early so we could help them avoid the traps of leadership and power,” he said. “We have to make sure we put in front of them more than one leader, because if you’re counting on only one leader, then that person has an opportunity to let you down.”

Or teach you a valuable lesson. Nothing Cannon or anyone else could have said would have struck as resounding a chord with the young whippersnappers as hizzoner going and getting himself pinched in so spectacular a fashion.

Say “Thank you” to the former mayor, fellas.

Among other things, Cannon reportedly told one of his presumed benefactors that he needed $12,500 for a feminine hygiene product he was developing. The alleged product was to be called “Hers,” presumably because “Summer’s Eve” was already taken and because no one could imagine a feminine hygiene product called “His.”

How the federal agent kept from guffawing remains a mystery.

Cannon is merely another in a long line of altruistic politicians willing to sacrifice their own careers for the good of others. His selflessness calls to mind forgotten New York legislator and statesman George Washington Plunkitt, who came up with the term “honest graft” to describe his self-serving deeds with the city’s Tammany Hall political machine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Plunkitt, who claimed graft was necessary for good government, reportedly said, “I seen my opportunities and I took ’em.”

Ranks right up there with “Give me liberty or give me death,” doesn’t it?

OK, maybe not. What’s undeniable is that Plunkitt is only remembered, when he’s remembered at all, for his brazen betrayal of the public’s trust.

If the current charges against Cannon stick, the same, sadly, will be said of Charlotte’s chump-change charlatan.

That’s a heck of an odoriferous legacy, one no kind of spray can mask.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or bsaunders@newsobserver.com

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