Patrick Cannon Dodged Rumors and Won Voters

By now, most of you have heard of former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon’s self-induced fall from grace. Rumors have circulated around him for years, and while a lot of us are not surprised he is seeing trouble, I do not think anyone expected this. Of course, Cannon is innocent until proven guilty, but that hasn’t stopped most of us from accepting the contents of the affidavit as the truth.

Steve asked in a comment on BlueNC earlier this week how Charlotte voters could elect Patrick Cannon if there were so many rumors flying around about him. It’s a good question, without a good answer, or it may be better to say it doesn’t have a simple answer.

Rumor Mill

Hang around in political circles long enough and you will hear just about every rumor that can be told about a person - some are even true. In his two decades in politics Patrick Cannon has had time to develop quite a collection of rumors. Most have involved marital infidelity or shady business practices. Few, if any, have a victim, witness, or participant willing to come forward. It is why they are still rumors and after a while rumors are discredited or forgotten.

2005 Mayoral Run

Cannon entered politics more than a decade before his first mayoral run. In 2005, Cannon’s campaign floundered before he ever made it to the primary. There were rumors he was playing fast and loose under the sheets with someone who wasn’t his wife, but today those are still just rumors.

After Cannon withdrew from the race to spend more time with his family, Creative Loafing published a piece by Tara Servatius that did a good job of explaining some of the underlying issues for Cannon and how he had fallen into and out of favor in the African American community - an important base of power in Charlotte politics.

The problems that would eventually hamstring Cannon's campaign started in 1999, when young African-American upstart Malcolm Graham won a district seat on City Council. Unlike Cannon, who had paid his dues and been pulled up through the ranks by the African-American community's old political guard, Graham won his seat by defeating a member of that old guard. Like Cannon, Graham had mayoral ambitions and might one day even like to take a crack at winning the congressional seat held by Mel Watt in largely African-American Congressional District 12. The two men were almost bound to clash, and quickly did.

When Graham voted to abolish a contracting program that favored minorities — after the city attorney advised it was unconstitutional and could result in a costly court battle the city would ultimately lose — Cannon and other old guarders like City Councilman James Mitchell used the vote to isolate Graham, who spent months repairing the damage within the black community.

Malcolm Graham decided to run for the legislature in 2004 and instead of letting him exit the city council quietly and represent Charlotte in Raleigh, Cannon and friends doubled down.

Whatever the case, the gentlemanly thing to do would have been to let Graham step aside gracefully. Instead, Cannon, Mitchell and some other old guarders such as former Caucus chairman Eric Douglas worked against Graham in a move many saw as an attempt to finish off a political rival. It didn't help matters that Graham's opponent, longtime state legislator Fountain Odom, was white and that 60 percent of the voters in the primary were black. The county's African-American ministers, whose informal, behind-the-pulpit influence is often critical, backed Graham, who clobbered his opponent 63 percent to 37 percent in the newly created district. The Black Political Caucus, which once was dominated by the old guarders, also backed Graham. It was a stunning defeat for those who had worked to kill off Graham, and it caused bitter feelings that would come back to haunt Cannon in his short-lived mayoral run.

One thing not mentioned in the piece is that Cannon’s claim he wanted to refocus on his family may not have been the only reason he wanted out of the public eye. It soon surfaced that Cannon was in trouble with the Internal Revenue Service and faced tax liens of $193,000.

Fast Forward

In 2013, Cannon ran in the Democratic primary against James Mitchell. Mitchell is extremely well thought of, he works hard, and he is honest. The one thing that Cannon supporters could find to pick on was his nickname - Smuggie. Admittedly, it may not be the most refined moniker, but it doesn’t disqualify him from holding office.

Cannon, it appears, did a better job than Mitchell of healing old wounds within the Black Political Caucus and with African American voters. Once back in their good graces, Cannon was able to move forward. He also had a great deal of support among white Democrats and seemed to repair his image somewhat. Old rumors were forgotten and new rumors apparently were ignored.

Cannon also had momentum. Old guard pols and political newcomers alike jumped on his bandwagon. One of the hardest working women in Charlotte politics, Leigh Rose, worked on the Cannon campaign. Leigh is a relative newcomer, but not someone who would overlook or excuse the mess that hovered around Cannon. She has quickly earned the respect of those of us who watch Charlotte politics and her support carries some weight. He must have done a very good job at fooling people.

Cannon also had the avid support of long-time political advisor Dan McCorkle who, according to the Business Journal, gave Cannon informal campaign advice McCorkle also took on the Charlotte Observer’s editorial board over their claim of and apologies for inaccuracies in an editorial that Patrick Cannon wrote for the paper. McCorkle’s visibility and the respect he carried in some circles helped promote Cannon as the viable candidate.

Unified Campaign

Finally, NCDP Chair Randy Voller encouraged Democrats to run a unified campaign. I know Patrick Cannon, Michael Barnes, and Claire Fallon campaigned together. Vi Alexander Lyles, Greg Phipps, and Al Austin may also have worked with the “unified” campaign, but not all Democrats joined in. This may have provided part of the push Cannon needed in the general election to beat moderate Republican Edwin Peacock.

As you can see there were a number of factors at work that helped Cannon win last November. The one legal issue from the past - the tax liens - Cannon satisfied rather quickly and what was left were rumors of infidelity. I know, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. The problem is there never really was that one bit of evidence needed to confirm the rumors.

I guess that won't be a problem anymore


Thanks, Betsy

Big-city politics are always complex, and hindsight is always twenty/twenty.

That being said, I still believe there was enough negative information out there (rumor or not) that could have/should have kept Cannon from rising up the NCDP political ladder. As long as he was just holding a Council seat, well, that was a district thing. But running for Mayor of a city the size (and reach) of Charlotte, it's not just a city thing, or even a state thing, it's national/international. Hence my anger at his comments about using the White House (and our embattled President) to help his cronies.

Winning elections is important. But doing the job right is even more important. One of these days (I'm not holding my breath) the movers and shakers in the North Carolina Democratic Party will figure that out.

NCDP really doesn't have much influence in Charlotte

...or at least it didn't. There were some Charlotte pols who should have figured it out, but too many of them apparently wanted to jump on the coattails of the guy who was going to win.

I'm not trying to excuse it.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

Broad definition

In this context, when I say (write, whatever) "NCDP", I'm talking about whatever levels of the Democratic Party (County Party, Caucuses, etc.) are directly involved in the campaigning. I probably shouldn't use that, because when most people see "NCDP" they think Raleigh/Goodwin House. But it is all of us.


I only think of NCDP as Goodwin House.

I am not sure what the process is to vet candidates in Mecklenburg, but I'm sure most felt Cannon was a "known" quantity. What they knew, they excused.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

What is hidden here

Cannon had all the credentials and was a super candidate. An African American democratic politician that was well spoken and had super support that came up through the ranks with creds that supported most of what he ran on. He was a tough candidate to beat in Charlotte.

I see how Cannon was elected.

The phrase "who knew" comes to mind.

I don't really get your point


Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.


Betsy, I am talking about an absolutely wonderful democratic candidate on paper with supposedly a wonderful political background that was found to have such a sordid background. "Who Knew"???

What part of that was so difficult to understand?

I am not trying to be negative here but this is very bad for the democratic party in North Carolina. The McCrory/Duke Power debacle is now lessened because of this just from the point of republicans showing that abuse of power and wrongdoing in government in North Carolina isn't just something McCrory and associates has done but it's systemic and includes democrats as well.

I know that's not popular here, but it's true nonetheless.

Dayum that's a high horse you're riding on

You were being very cryptic....and the whole racist "well spoken" part of your comment threw me. I really wasn't sure where you were coming from. It's been a long time since I have hung out here and I no longer know who the trolls are. I simply wanted to understand exactly what you meant.

I don't really consider someone who has had tax liens of $193,000 with rumors constantly swirling around him to be someone who looks good on paper..... so that kinda threw me too.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.


"Well spoken" means I'm a racist? That's unfair. Betsy, you are a long time poster here and an obvious friend of most posters and the administrators on this site and I am new. So, you will get support for what you have put here I am sure. Saying someone is well spoken and in the same breath saying that person is African American does not make a person racist. If you WANT it to seem that way, then yes, that is how it will seem. It is weak to call someone out in that way in my view, but I know that on blog sites, that is how people win favor and arguments.

If you knew about the $193,000 tax lien and other rumors and spoke out against Cannon because of that when he ran for Mayor, then I understand what you are saying. If you knew about those things like it sounds like you did and did not speak out against him and work against him, then I don't know what to think.

I don't think anything "threw" you in what I said, actually, to be honest.

I didn't say you were racist

I said the "well spoken" part of your comment was. That's not being unfair. It is pretty widely understood that "well-spoken" is code for "sounds white." Maybe you didn't mean it that way, but since I don't know you and you write under a pseudonym my immediate reaction was that you must be a Republican troll.

Your use of the phrase threw me and trying to convince you further isn't on my list of things to do.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

I understand

That's how I took Biden's remarks when he spoke about Obama being "clean". I didn't really think much about it although much was made of it. I certainly didn't think Biden was racist or that his remarks were racist.

I do understand what you are saying about my intentions and my pseudonym, however.