Powerful political group endorses former mayor who took bribes

Powerful political group endorses former mayor who took bribes

Photo: Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

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Charlotte’s most powerful political organization endorsed a former mayor who went to jail for taking bribes while in office.

Driving the news: The Black Political Caucus of Charlotte-Mecklenburg announced its endorsements Wednesday evening ahead of the May 17 primary election, including Patrick Cannon in the at-large Charlotte City Council race.

  • Cannon was elected mayor in 2013 but arrested in March 2014. He later pleaded guilty to corruption and served half of a 44-month sentence. He was convicted of taking more than $50,000 in bribes from undercover FBI agents while in public office.

Why it matters: The Democratic primary for Charlotte City Council at-large is one of the most intriguing this election season, with every single candidate being a current or former elected official.

  • But the race has already become messy. And the GOP is rooting for the mess from the sidelines.

The big picture: In the same race, the BPC also threw its support behind:

  • Braxton Winston: a current at-large council member who rose to prominence during the Keith Lamont Scott protests.
  • LaWana Mayfield: a former council member who made controversial comments about 9/11 and the police. She held the District 3 seat, and lost an at-large race in 2019.
  • James “Smuggie” Mitchell: a longtime council member who resigned last year due to concerns of a conflict of interest with a role he took as the head of a construction company that does business with the city. Mitchell told WSOC’s Joe Bruno in March that he still has a 25% stake in the company. State law prohibits elected officials from receiving a direct benefit from a contract with a public agency (owning more than 10% of a company part of the contract counts as a direct benefit).

The candidates the Black Political Caucus did not endorse on the Democratic side include: Current District 1 representative Larken Egleston and at-large council member Dimple Ajmera. 

  • They also did not endorse Republicans, including newcomers Kyle Luebke, David Merrill, Charlie Mulligan, Carrie Olinski and previous candidate David Michael Rice.
  • The general election will be held on July 26.

What they’re saying: Stephanie Sneed, chairperson of the local Black Political Caucus, refused to go into the specific reasons discussed around Cannon’s endorsement. She said those conversations are part of a closed session.

  • “The caucus is aware of his record,” she tells me. “We put forth candidates that we think that are going to represent the interest of caucus and the Black community and Black voters, and particularly our legislative agenda to address issues related to safety, transportation, access to healthcare, voting rights, food desserts, affordable housing.”

Between the lines: Candidates vie for the Black Political Caucus’ endorsement in every election. It is the main organization holding forums for this year’s races. 

  • But the BPC’s support does not guarantee a victory. In the 2019 at-large race, two of the four candidates it endorsed at-large, Winston and Mitchell, won.

What he’s saying: Cannon tells me he is “humbled” and “appreciative” of the endorsement.

  • To those critical of his record, he says: “I’m hopeful that they will look at the actions that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Black Political Caucus voters took as a sign that there is still a great belief and hope that we can continue to get things done for the citizens at large.”

Between the lines: Cannon’s entry into the race has divided Democrats. Some say he served his time and deserves a chance at redemption, while others don’t want the party to be associated with his scandal again.

The bottom line: Nearly every politician who has spent time in office has had a brush with controversy, and most carry baggage with them. The question that political observers have always tried to answer is, how much will voters tolerate?

We’ll find out on May 17.

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