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Patrick Cannon talks about his arrest, the fairness of his sentence and why he's running again

Patrick Cannon spoke with WFAE by Zoom Thursday
Patrick Cannon spoke with WFAE by Zoom Thursday.

Patrick Cannon had been Charlotte’s mayor for only 114 days when he was arrested on federal corruption charges. He resigned that day, March 26, 2014.

“Have you ever been traveling down a road somewhere and you see these eyes that are staring at you because your car lights are right in their eyes?” Cannon said in an interview Thursday with WFAE and the Charlotte Business Journal. “That was me. A deer in headlights. At my lowest point ever. Just feeling like this has got to the worst nightmare ever and you hope someone pinches you. But then you don’t get that pinch.”

Cannon, a Democrat, had accepted $50,000 in cash and gifts from two undercover FBI agents who were posing as out-of-town real estate developers. As a member of the Charlotte City Council, Cannon asked them if they would invest in a feminine hygiene products company he was trying to start. In exchange, he would get them approvals for a development they wanted to build along a transit line.

The bribes he took included $20,000 in cash in a briefcase after he became mayor. That took place in the mayor’s office, according to the federal indictment.

Cannon also admitted taking $2,000 in cash from a local businessman to help him deal with the impacts of the construction of the city’s light-rail extension. That preceded the FBI’s sting.

So, why did Cannon do it?

“Honestly, there’s no real rhyme or reason as to why it was done and I make no excuses for it,” he said. “Instead, I wish to right my wrongs and prove to people that’s not the real Patrick Cannon.”

He said he was rejuvenated in prison and that he has “worked to find a way to make sure that he is always thinking about his behavior, that we will move forward and things like that will never happen again.”

In sentencing Cannon, federal Judge Frank Whitney said Cannon had “seriously tarnished the city’s image." Cannon ended up serving nearly two years of his 44-month sentence.

While Cannon was in prison, former City Manager Ron Carlee — who worked with Cannon — said in an interview he thought that his sentence was overly harsh.

Cannon said he later read about Carlee’s comments.

“I eventually read about it and quite honestly, you know, thought that it was admirable of him to suggest that what I got wasn’t fair considering what others what others had not gotten at all but had done things far worse,” Cannon said.

Cannon was referring to former Virginia Governor Bob McDonell, who was sentenced to two years in prison in 2015 for accepting $177,000 in loans and gifts.

“I pretty much took what was given to me and abided by it,” he said.

And while in prison, Cannon says he wasn’t thinking about a political future.

“Quite frankly, I was not thinking about running again,” he said.

Cannon grew up on Charlotte’s west side. He was only 26 when he was first elected to City Council in 1993.

He once was part owner of E-Z Parking but he sold his shares after being arrested. E-Z Parking managed several uptown parking lots, including one owned by the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.

His public comeback began in 2017 when he started hosting a Saturday morning radio talk show on Old School 105.3.

He says he’s been encouraged to run. Corrine Mack of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP is one example. She told WBTV that she was “happy to have him back in the race.”

“The feedback I’ve been getting is ‘It’s about time,’ Cannon said. “Which has been humbling for me to hear…largely because you don’t know what the reaction will be.”

In the interview, Cannon was asked if people have told him that they forgive him — but they can’t vote for him to be on City Council again?

“No. I hadn’t heard that yet,” he said. “But I would imagine that someone out there would say that, potentially. But no I haven’t heard that. No one has come to me directly to say that to me.”

There are six Democrats running for four at-large seats in the May 17 primary. Dimple Ajmera and Braxton Winston are the only two Democrats running who are currently serving at-large.

Former council members LaWana Mayfield and James Mitchell are running, and Larken Egleston, the council’s District 1 representative, is also in the race.

Since Cannon was arrested, the city has changed dramatically: A reckoning over economic mobility. The Keith Lamont Scott protests in 2016 and then more protests over police conduct in 2020.

The city has also shifted to the left. Cannon, who is 55, says in his era the council wasn’t as ideological. He said previous councils were “moderate” and “willing to work together.”

When Cannon was on City Council, he supported the creation of a Citizens Review Board in 1997 that was designed to provide oversight over Charlotte Mecklenburg Police.

But he says the Council today should support CMPD more.

“Things are being suggested that there is support for the department, but when the cameras came on and the pens started writing it became a lack of support for the department,” he said. “If you are on board with the department, be on board with the department, if you aren’t on board with the department don’t be on board with the department.”

Cannon also criticized the city for the CIAA basketball tournament’s departure to Baltimore. Mayor Vi Lyles is trying to bring the CIAA back.

There are four Republicans running in the summer general election for the at-large seats. And if Cannon makes it that far, the GOP has said his past will be a campaign issue.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.