One of my favorite shows White Collar, follows an FBI agent and his ex-con CI as they investigate art theft and forgery, insider trading, and other forms of corruption and fraud. I’m amazed that even these fictional characters are arrogant enough… delusional enough to commit such crimes. The news of the last week has been stranger than fiction as Mayor Patrick Cannon was arrested and stood before a federal judge on allegations of corruption: accepting bribes of around $48,000.00 in cash and campaign contributions, a trip to Las Vegas, and a luxury apartment in exchange for influencing Charlotte’s government to alter zoning regulations and otherwise favor certain developers and entrepreneurs (who were actually undercover FBI agents).
$20,000 of this money was actually dropped onto Mayor Cannon’s desk in the Mayor’s office in a briefcase! At another meeting that took place in the apartment rented by the FBI, Cannon closed the blinds and then used stacks of money to fan himself. The details of the affidavit sound like the script of a bad movie.
Did he really think he wouldn’t get caught? Is the money, money that needs to be hidden or laundered, really worth the risk? What kind of “power” do you really have if one false move can land you in federal prison?
More simply : Why?
The answers posited so far are predictable. Predictable and wrong.
“Patrick Cannon is corrupt, greedy, and narcissistic. Can we trust anything that he has done or said over the last 4 months? His 20 years in government?” Or with partisan flavor, “Another corrupt Democrat.”
After watching the news Wednesday night, my wife’s response was to pray for Cannon and his family.
It’s amazing how this simple act humanized him and us. It reminded us that Patrick Cannon is like you and me:
An ambiguous mix of goodness, brokenness, and everything in-between. More than his choices. Certainly more than our perceptions of his choices.
Patrick accomplished so much before he rose to power and influence. He grew up in public housing on the westside. His father’s life was taken by violence. His single mother worked on a truck assembly line. He beat the odds to be a successful student,business owner and politician. He has used his power on city council and in the mayor’s office to invest in under-resourced neighborhoods, fighting for public transportation, infrastructure, and economic opportunity for the poor and marginalized. He has contributed to many successful initiatives in economic development, bringing more businesses and wealth to our city.
He is a husband and a father. A hero and inspiration to the boys and girls growing up in neighborhoods like his.
But, Patrick Cannon also made choices to put all of these things at risk for his own gain. Choices that will forever be a part of his legacy.
Why? Who knows? Probably the same reasons we do. But with tragically higher stakes, more publicity, and more responsibility.
“This kind of thing happens in Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, but not Charlotte! We have had a ‘squeaky clean’ record up until now.”
This is naive at best. Cannon might simply be the first to be caught.
The only reason that the FBI investigated Cannon was because of a tip from an undercover CMPD officer, investigating an unrelated corruption case. In other words, there was sufficient suspicion or evidence of white collar crime in Charlotte’s development community long before Cannon was known to be involved. Is this an isolated incident? Or business as usual?
“Politicians are corrupt. What do you expect? ” And with Christian flavor, “This is why we can’t put our trust in ‘the ways of the world’.”
I had high hopes for our third African American mayor and his role in the future of Charlotte. This made Wednesday’s news so frustrating. But allowing disillusionment to grow into disengagement will just make things worse.
When former Mayor Foxx, Mayor Pro-tem Cannon and the city council pushed to fund the streetcar, and other infrastructure improvements, they drew the ire of many Charlotteans incensed that their tax dollars were going to be spent on the other side of town.
When the same administration used public funding to provide incentives to companies like Chiquita, or worked to develop opportunities for other businesses to thrive they were praised (except for those people who are always angry about taxes).
The message is this: Do what you can to help business and banking interests thrive, but don’t waste your time or my money on East or West Charlotte.
Could it be Patrick Cannon internalized this logic to the point that he felt that he needed the prestige, money and power that came from these “under the table” deals to validate himself as a leader? As a man?
Would our politicians make these choices if we provided an alternative narrative, appreciating their politically costly efforts to provide opportunities to the poor and marginalized?
But then again, maybe it wasn’t about this at all.
It’s hard for me to believe that it was just about $48,000.00
Whatever you think about particular political issues or politics in general, moments like this call for greater engagement, support, critique, and accountability.
That is my prayer for us and our leaders.