CHARLOTTE, NC, March 27, 2014 – Longtime residents of Charlotte, NC are familiar with a running joke about the city’s desire to be recognized as a “world class city.” For decades Charlotte lived in the shadow of its bigger sister, Atlanta, GA, just four hours down the interstate. The inferiority complex was huge.
Within the past couple of decades, Charlotte has emerged from the shadows into the sunshine. As the second largest financial district in the United States, the “Queen City” has gradually evolved into an identity all its own. First-time visitors are usually pleasantly surprised. Charlotte has an unexpected vitality. It is a gleaming, thriving city of the New South that is famous for its signature tree-lined avenues and neighborhoods.
But it took a long time for Charlotte to become “world class.” The world’s longest NASCAR race at 600 miles didn’t do it. Neither did the addition of the NBA Charlotte Hornets, the city’s first truly major league sports franchise, in 1988.
Seven years later, in 1995, the Carolina Panthers joined the NFL and though the transition to international status was beginning to take hold, Charlotte still wasn’t fully in the spotlight.
Then the Democratic National Convention came to town in 2012. Charlotte was on the map. Traffic jams. Congestion. Massive security. Prominent national and international personalities and celebrities. Worldwide media attention. It was the stuff of dreams for the Chamber of Commerce.
All of those things had a cumulative impact. Charlotte was growing up.
On Wednesday, FBI agents arrested Charlotte Mayor Patrick D. Cannon, 47, on charges of allegedly accepting tens of thousands of dollars in bribes “in exchange for the use of his official position.” According to a press release from U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins, Cannon faces federal charges of theft, bribery, fraud and extortion that, if convicted, could result in more than 50 years in prison and fines of $1.5 million.
No longer does Charlotte live in the shadows. The city is now officially “world class.”
In his resignation letter Cannon wrote, “In light of the charges that have been brought against me, it is my judgment that the pendency of these charges will create too much of a distraction for the business of the City to go forward smoothly and without interruption.”
A “distraction” is an understatement, but the city has to be thankful that Cannon had the decency to step down so that “the business of the City’ could “go forward smoothly and without interruption.”
After an earlier stint on Charlotte’s City Council, Cannon took a brief break from public service before returning to the council in 2009. He then served on the council and as mayor pro tem between 2010 and November 2013.until Mayor Anthony Foxx became U.S. Secretary of Transportation in the Obama administration.
The FBI investigation of Cannon began in August 2010 with agents posing as commercial real estate developers and investors seeking to do business in North Carolina. Five separate incidents between January of last year and February 2014 were documented in which Cannon accepted over $48,000 in cash, plane tickets, hotels and a luxury apartment from the undercover operation.
Fortunately for Charlotte, there are far more important issues on the domestic and international agenda to keep the glare of the spotlight from shining too brightly on the city. Still the community is abuzz with the revelations and city pride has been dimmed.
On the other hand, this might just be the final catalyst that gives Charlotte the “world class” status it has so long desired. And, who knows, Cannon may have elevated his own credentials enough to qualify as a stepping stone for a high position in the Obama administration.
The old gray mayor just ain’t what he used to be, but at least he is “world class.”
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe. Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com).
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