Huge news out of Charlotte today:
Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon was arrested Wednesday on public corruption charges, with the FBI alleging he took tens of thousands of dollars in bribes – including $20,000 in cash delivered in a briefcase last month to the mayor’s office where he also solicited $1 million more.
In return for the money, trips, hotel rooms and access to a luxury SouthPark apartment, Cannon promised to help agents posing as potential commercial investors with zoning, parking and other city-related issues.
According to officials, Cannon turned himself in to federal marshals after learning of a warrant for his arrest. He was immediately taken before U.S. Magistrate Judge David Keesler of Charlotte.
Cannon, a Democrat, was charged with theft and bribery after the FBI sting operation, said Anne Tompkins, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. He was released on $25,000 unsecured bond, pending indictment, which could come as early as next week. The court file shows Charlotte attorney James Ferguson is representing Cannon.
If convicted on all charges, the 47-year-old mayor faces up to 50 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines. He remains mayor until he either resigns or is convicted, according to city officials. The case is still being investigated, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Cannon is the longest-serving elected official in Charlotte, having joined the city council in 1993. He is the region’s highest-ranking official to be charged in a corruption case since former N.C. House speaker Jim Black of Matthews, also a Democrat, pleaded guilty in 2007.
Cannon’s arrest follows a four-year investigation, which stretched from a Las Vegas resort to the mayor’s office on the 15th floor of the Government Center, which Cannon has occupied for only five months.
The former 14-year Charlotte mayor spoke to Cannon for a roughly an hour at 10 a.m. Wednesday about the ongoing saga involving control of the Charlotte airport, just a couple hours before his arrest. The news came as a shock, he said.
“I’m shocked, I’m saddened, I’m angry – about the allegations, about the impact that has on a city I dearly love,” he said.
“I’m heartbroken about what’s happened and I’m angry at the same time because it’s someone I’ve known for a long period of time and I love this city,” McCrory said in an interview outside an event in Raleigh. “This city has had an incredible reputation for a long, long time about its high ethical standards. The city does not deserve that type of behavior.”
McCrory has known Cannon for 30 years. His brother Phil was Cannon’s “Big” in the Big Brother’s program; Cannon was a groomsman in his brother’s wedding. McCrory said he helped teach Cannon how to swim at age 13.
“He was very close to me and my family,” he said. “I’m just extremely disappointed and angry.”
The arrest and charges against Cannon bring to light some interesting questions: Will he be the only one charged locally? Or were there others who we’ll learn about later? Will he step down? He hasn’t given any indication of yet that he will. And why has former Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx – also a Democrat, who now serves at a national level as Obama’s Transportation Secretary – refused to comment?
Needless to say, news of the allegations against Cannon and his arrest today come at a very inconvenient time for NC Democrats who remain severely fractured after a series of high-level embarrassments, scandals (flashback!), leadership battles, and money issues so much so that Senator Kay Hagan is bypassing the state party in her re-election bid here and instead is will use the Wake County Democrat party HQ as her reelection hub. I suspect Cannon will decide to not step down and instead stay on as Mayor while this thing plays out in court. The case is still under investigation but if the trial starts before the election this year he may face increasing behind-the-scenes pressure from Democrats both at the city and state level to leave office so they can try and contain the damage.
Grab the popcorn and, as they say, stay tuned.
Updated – 8:05 PM: And just like that, Cannon has resigned:
— RedNC101 (@RedNC101) March 27, 2014
Story here. As to who takes over the Mayor’s chair:
City Manager Ron Carlee tells NBC Charlotte that Cannon’s resignation is effective immediately. Mayor Pro-tem Michael Barnes will take over immediately in the interim until city council appoints a city councilmember as the new mayor.
Still wrapping my thoughts around this. Cannon was Mayor for all of 114 days. And he was an elected official on the City Council while some of the alleged bribes allegedly took place, and knowingly ran for Mayor with that in mind. Talk about stupid!