Patrick Cannon, the former Charlotte mayor convicted in 2014 of accepting more than $50,000 in bribes, is returning to politics with a bid for Charlotte City Council. It has been a little over five years since Cannon, a Democrat, was released from prison.
On March 4, he filed to run for an at-large seat on City Council. Cannon served half of his 44-month sentence at a minimum security prison in Morgantown, W.Va. He pleaded guilty to one count of honest services wire fraud after he accepted bribes from undercover FBI agents posing as investors. He took the bribes while in office, first as a City Council member then as mayor.
In a statement Friday after filing to run, Cannon wrote: “To date I still take responsibility for my actions then, remaining sorry for those shortcomings, and continue to ask for forgiveness of you and our community in its totality. A chance for redemption is all I can ask for and pray that you might provide it in a fall that was taken, with the hope of getting up and starting a new beginning with your support.”
In North Carolina, a person convicted of a felony temporarily loses their right to vote, which also means they’re not eligible to hold elected office until those rights are restored. State law permits automatic restoration of voting rights for people formerly incarcerated or convicted once their sentence is served, including probation and parole. A spokesperson for the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections told the Observer Cannon filed to run and indicated his parole was finished. Voter registration information shows he registered to vote on March 1, 2019. That year marked the end of his probation, five years after his conviction.
Greg Forest, chief U.S. Probation Officer for the Western District of North Carolina, said Cannon’s term of supervision ended in January 2019. As The Charlotte Observer reported at the time, “the bureaucratic-sounding charge – honest services wire fraud – belies the seriousness of Cannon’s crime. The (then) 47-year-old Democrat acknowledged taking bribes and other gifts in exchange for using his political influence to help those who paid him.” Prosecutors described him, the Observer reported in 2014, as “a mayor and City Council member on retainer – receiving a steady stream of cash and gifts, while being paid extra when something needed to be done.”
In return for the bribes, Cannon promised to use his influence as mayor on an “as needed” basis, including to intervene with zoning, permitting and transportation issues, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina.
Stephanie Sneed, chair of the Black Political Caucus of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, declined to comment on Cannon’s candidacy announcement or fitness for office. She said Cannon will be invited, like all candidates who file, to participate in the caucus’ forums and “rigorous endorsement process.”
Those forums, she said, will inform the caucus’s determination “whether it was his time to come back or not,” she said. She declined to say when endorsements will be announced, but said the forums would begin within the next two weeks. “People have the opportunity to hear directly from the candidates if they choose (to participate in the forums), including Patrick Cannon,” she said. Winston, the at-large Democrat city council member who is running again, declined to comment on the impact of Cannon’s history. “I think that voters determine whether someone is qualified to run for office,” At-large member Braxton Winston said.
Dimple Ajmera, another at-large council member and candidate, said in a written statement that voters “will decide who represents them.” “I am staying focused on addressing the displacement, crime and congestion in our city,” she said.
Republicans have put forward five candidates for at-large City Council seats. Some of those candidates met at the Board of Elections office Thursday to put forward a platform of bolstering public safety, improving the city’s transportation networks and lowering housing costs. One of them, Kyle Luebke, said it will be up to Democratic primary voters to decide whether Cannon is fit to hold office again.
“We have a new vision for this city, and I think it will be very easy to contrast our vision for the city … with what the Democrats are offering,” he said. “Patrick Cannon is just one example of that.”
Cannon’s conviction rattled Charlotte at the time it occurred. U.S. District Judge Frank Whitney’s sentence was seven months longer than what prosecutors had recommended, saying at the time that while Cannon’s name “hopefully will fade into our distant memories, let us never forget that a sitting mayor was susceptible to public corruption.”
It will be that legacy that Cannon will have to break through in his at-large bid. His corruption charge covered five separate bribes between January 2013 and February 2014. He also admitted to receiving regular payments from a local business owner, who the Observer identified as strip-club mogul David “Slim” Baucom.
The details of the crime were striking. In the case of one bribe, an undercover FBI agent delivered the former mayor a briefcase containing $20,000 in cash in the mayor’s office. During sentencing, his attorneys asked the court to not define Cannon by his crime.
The former mayor and City Council member “overcame poverty and the violent loss of his father to be a fine student, a loving father and a dedicated leader,” the Charlotte Observer reported at the time. “You’re a good man, a very good man, but you have made serious mistakes,” Whitney replied.
Lauren Lindstrom and Ames Alexander also contributed to this story, which appears here courtesy of our media partner The Charlotte Observer.