Election 2013: Q&A with Patrick Cannon, Democratic candidate for Charlotte mayor

patrickcannon

Come November, voters in Charlotte will head to the polls and choose their next mayor. For the first time since 2009, no incumbent mayor is on the ballot. Citizens will choose between Democrat Patrick Cannon, 47, who currently serves as Mayor Pro Tempore and an at-large member on Charlotte City Council, and Republican Edwin Peacock III, 43, a former at-large council member who served two terms from 2007 through 2011 and ran last year for the Republican nomination in the Ninth Congressional District.

Both candidates have long records of public service. For LGBT citizens, Cannon and Peacock represent two of the most vetted candidates to ever appear on the mayoral ballot. Both have received past endorsements from the Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee (MeckPAC) for their LGBT-friendly stances, though neither received MeckPAC’s nod in mayoral primary races in September. Peacock was endorsed by qnotes in 2011.

qnotes sat down with both candidates for an in-depth Q&A on a variety of topics, including LGBT non-discrimination efforts, economic development issues, community and neighborhood issues and more. A portion of those sit-down interviews were published in our Oct. 11 print edition. Below, you can read the full interview with Patrick Cannon. It has been edited slightly for clarity. Click here to read our interview with Edwin Peacock. Read our mayoral endorsement editorial here.

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The general election is scheduled for Nov. 5, 2013.

Matt Comer: What makes you the best candidate for mayor over your opponent?
Patrick Cannon: What makes me the best is that I know that in today’s time I am more than ready in terms of being on the ground to move Charlotte forward. I’m more than willing to continue to make the sacrifice that I have over the years, knowing and understanding that I still have a business and, more importantly, a family. I’m able, from the context of already serving in the capacity of mayor pro tem. That has positioned me properly to actually serve as mayor largely in part because that’s what I’ve been doing in the absence of the mayor. I’m ready, I’m willing and I’m able, and I’m very excited about the opportunity to serve the citizens of Charlotte in a way that will take us to another level.

You mention your family and business. How do you foresee yourself striking that balance, and should the mayor’s position be full-time in a city the size of Charlotte?
I believe the form of government we’ve been operating under for a very long time has worked well and it has served Charlotte well from a business perspective. It makes sense to me to continue that tradition. In terms of being able to strike the balance between home and the business, I’ve been able to over the years try to take everything on as soon as it hits my desk. That, in turn, allows me to be able to move to other core responsibilities that I need to provide my level energy or presence towards. For instance, even though the campaign has been going and even though I can be as tired as tired can be, I still make my way to my son’s baseball games and even his little league baseball practices, because it’s important and when it gets to the point where I can’t be there for him or his sister along with my wife, I’ll need to recheck what I’m doing. But, right now I’ve been able to balance that accordingly and I plan to do the same thing as mayor.

What first inspired you to public service?
For a couple of reasons. One, I saw people that were having to cut through a lot of red tape to realize a result and that’s something that I don’t subscribe to, red tape that is. Things should be a little more fluid without people having to jump through hurdles to realize an end result that is positive for them. I’ll be quite candid with you — I had no real interest in running for office. I was fine doing what I was doing in corporate America. However, as I happened to be a lunch buddy and mentor at Hickory Grove Elementary School for GE Capital, I felt like I wasn’t doing enough and I wasn’t quite sure what else I could do, but then I found myself going to neighborhood meetings in fragile or threatened parts of the city and it was there I saw people who had gotten complacent or satisfied with “alright,” because they felt like government, for the role it should have been playing, wouldn’t play one for them. I said you don’t know me from Adam, but if there’s anything I can do to go before a city council, a school board or the county commission, let me know because I’d like to help you further any cause you’d like to see coming to fruition. It just so happened to be that the neighborhood that took me up on the offer happened to be the one I grew up in. The issue was that Parks and Recreation pulled out of the public housing communities. It left our youth with the option to engage in mischief, if they so desired. The opportunity that would have been at hand would have been creating a relationship or partnership with the Harris YMCA and the Pine Valley community, and so I took them up on their offer, went before City Council to ask for funding to support the program and got it and from there that began to spur my career into politics.

Is that type of public-private partnerships you told Creative Loafing the city needs more of?
That can be a very good example. It goes beyond that example to even partnerships where the city may want to engage in something where monetary support is needed, but you probably need some extra push from the public sector in attracting a business to bring it into existence. When you have both entities working together it can only result in the common good for the City of Charlotte. Additionally, having other governing bodies to also participate is critical, as well, knowing and understanding that we need to be as fiscally prudent and responsible as possible with taxpayer dollars.

How is your relationship with regional governments? If the airport commission goes through, you’ll have to work more closely with regional partners.
In the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to work with and be appointed to [the Centralina Council of Governments]. I will tell you that the relationship I have with mayors in the surrounding region is not a bad relationship at all and it’s one I look forward to growing more than what it is today. Largely, in part because regional is what it’s about today. When we begin to have discussions around economic development and transportation and even some aspects of public safety, it only makes common sense to have a good rapport with your neighbors because we’re all in this together for the most part. I look forward to establishing a good working relationship with mayors and even other council members of other parts of the region.

Has the airport conversation negatively affected those relationships?
I don’t believe the airport is going to strain relationships between those of us in the region. I think the altercation has occurred more so on the state level and at the General Assembly with the local governing entities. So, I don’t believe that we will find ourselves at odds. In fact, we have been working pretty well to establish appointees to the membership of this so-called commission that’s having to be created under the legislature’s request.

Why do you think on City Council there has never been a vote on an LGBT-inclusive measure, for example, voting on a non-discrimination ordinance as opposed to the policy instituted by former City Manager Curt Walton? Why is that, and if an ordinance had been put on the agenda, would you have voted for it?
A couple things. The reason Curt Walton brought the policy that exists today — and I can’t say it is the sole reason he brought it up — was largely in part because I had gone to his office to ask him if he would have any issues moving forward on something as such. Obviously, the answer had to be no, because it exists today. I went there to voice that ask of him largely in part because I really don’t tolerate discrimination on any level. Having been a victim of it myself, that’s not the Charlotte way or at least it shouldn’t be. We should make sure that whether someone is looking for employment, whether they’re looking for just a chance to be included, that we do not allow one’s lifestyle to be a factor in determining whether or not they are qualified to do something one way or the other. I don’t know that I care what you look like, where you’re from, where you’re going — just so long as you’re able to come here and do what needs to be done for the best interest of the company. The same thing should be applicable to the public sector. The second part of your question is why it would not have come before Council. That’s solely at the discretion of the city manager. The former manager could have brought it to the body, but obviously made a decision in-house where he had the latitude to do that, to include it in the human resources pieces of how he wanted to see his organization operate. That in itself probably helped to allow the politics of it that could have or maybe not have been to not have to be something that the governing body would have had to go through. Do I think it would have been an issue? I can’t see how or why, largely in part again, no one should be discriminated against on any level. When you’ve had to experience for yourself like I have, based on whether it’s been my gender or my race, it’s not a good thing. It shouldn’t be the case for anybody else on any level. I would also say that the Council did vote, with me included, on domestic partner benefits [which were included in the 2012 budget]. I think people can see that there’s worth in everybody regardless of who they are or whatever their lifestyle might represent, there’s worth. I think we have to be able to tap that worth to be the kind of city that we know Charlotte can end up being not just now but in the future.

The city’s Commercial Non-Discrimination Ordinance requires businesses seeking to contract with the city to certify they have a non-discrimination policy of their own. Would you support amending that to include sexual orientation and gender identity so that businesses receiving taxpayer funds for services can’t turn around and discriminate against their own employees?
As long as a person is a person and they’re there to be able to do a job efficiently and effectively there should be nothing in my opinion to allow them to not be able to participate in providing such services.

So, you would consider taking a look at the ordinance?
Absolutely, and it probably makes some sense to check on best practices. Is there anything anecdotal that’s out there, something that you can sort of benchmark from to help you in making an informed decision?

Would you be open to taking a look at expanding protections in the public accommodations and fair housing ordinances, even if it means you have to go to the state legislature and ask for a local bill allowing you to expand them?
Yes. I’m open to that. And, we have our community relations director here who focuses on public accommodations and a part of what they have to operate under is making sure there is no level of discrimination that takes place on any level. I think, in general, we’ve embraced that idea. Now, whether it spells out exactly what you want to have spelled out is another question, but, in general, it covers everyone in terms of discrimination.

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You were not in favor of using property taxes to extend the streetcar …
No new property taxes, right.

You were not necessarily opposed to the streetcar idea. The city manager tried to get federal grant money but that did not come through. Are you still committed to seeing the project through and how do you foresee it being funded?
I’ve always been for the streetcar, since the inception of the idea. I remain in support of an alternative mode of transit like that that I think can bring about an expansion in our tax base, create jobs and provide a level of retail and housing that’s needed. It makes good sense, I think, to always look to do something that’s going to have a ripple effect in terms of being able to use those other tax dollars on other infrastructure needs. In terms of what has happened relative to the loss of the $63 million that was to come in from a grant from TIGER funds, it’s my hope that we would continue to look toward more grants or identifying a revenue source that would help us to be able to maximize not only the ability to do a streetcar, but also to support our other light rail needs as it relates to the blue line and the red line and we’re talking about even a silver line and a purple line. We practically have every color under the rainbow and get those built. If we can identify a proper funding source, I think we ought to be having that conversation. The economic spin off of what it will produce and the impact it will have on our environment are too far great for us to ignore. As mayor, I look for us to be able to concentrate on that, but not spend eons trying to figure it out. I think there are so many other parts of this community that need to be touched and taken care of before we let just one thing consume us.

Marriage law is not something the mayor of Charlotte can control, but a lot of my readers still want to know where you stand on marriage equality for same-sex couples.
You’re right, that’s not within our purview, per se, and I would say my belief has always been to each his or her own, relative to what they want to practice. However, my personal belief is that I don’t subscribe to it. I am not here to be anybody’s judge relative to what they feel they want to explore and/or engage in, but it’s something that personally I don’t subscribe to.

How did you vote on the marriage amendment last year?
I voted no, which would be in keeping with my personal beliefs.

On Eastland Mall, what are your thoughts on the proposal there? Are you excited for it, looking forward to it? Is there anything else the city can do to help revitalize the Eastside?
I am excited about it, but I had another vision for it that would have been more of smart-growth initiative much like a Town of Ayrsley, which exists off I-485 and S. Tryon St., a place where you can go from rental to home ownership, recreate with a Y there, there’s a movie theater, dining. It’s the kind of place, when you get there, you don’t have to leave it. You can do everything right there; live, work, raise your family and recreate — like a mini-Ballantyne which I pushed for when I was a district representative there. I was hoping we’d see something like that for that location, however the proposal before us now is still exciting because it will, I think, offer something to that part of our community that has been long forgotten. What concerns me is what the state will do next year when they reconvene in May to determine if they are going to allow for these tax credits to be extended. If these credits are not allowed, the deal in itself goes south. It’s been in our economic development committee. I asked that question point blank to Bert Hesse, who has been the head of seeing the project through. He concurred and agreed it would not happen if those tax credits aren’t put back into some legislation. What happens beyond that if it doesn’t come into fruition? The city may have to consider cutting its losses and allowing a private developer to come in and who would agree not to come and ask for additional taxpayer dollars to move forward to create or develop what the market will bear.

So, that’s your red line? No more taxpayer dollars?
One of the stipulations we as a body had was that no entity, including on this Eastland Mall deal with the proposed studio development, would come back and ask for additional dollars. They all agreed to that. The city has sunk a lot of its resources in there. We have to make sure we are balancing taxpayer dollars for the entire city — north, east, west and south. We ought to vet whomever has an interest in taking it over if the studio is not able to move forward and know that they can bring about a good product that will be of some good for that portion of our city. That being said, there is still an interest from entities to say they are on standby in the event Studio Charlotte cannot pull it off. Others have said, ‘We are in the wings and waiting.’ That gives me some confidence and should give people on the Eastside confidence that there is still potential that something will happen even if the state doesn’t conform with what it is we need for them to do.

City Council has been criticized for a lot of the economic incentives given to private business. What are your thoughts on balancing economic incentives for private companies versus more investment in maybe smaller businesses or non-profit groups working in neglected neighborhoods?
We have to look at not choosing one, but finding a way to balance all. There’s still a role for economic incentives if they make good business sense, meaning good jobs at better-than-minimum-wage standards of pay. There’s a place for continuing our legacy to support small businesses. One of the things I helped to bring back was what we call now the Charlotte Business Inclusion program, which used to be the [a minority and women owned business] program, so now women and minorities have another opportunity to participate in landing city and county contracts. We’re also making sure small businesses have access to capital. They can get up to $75,000 in capital from the city. There’s also an opportunity for them to to gain access for any start up through Grameen Bank. Lastly, there is a web portal that we put together that is called CharlotteBusinessResources.com, a place where anyone who has an interest in starting a small business can go and find out what access to capital is available and beyond that getting help creating a business plan to help them move forward. Small business is what makes this country revolve and we get that right here in the City of Charlotte. Being an entrepreneur and small businessman myself, it means a great deal to me that we continue to be about supporting our small businesses and still engaging in public-private partnerships. : :

You can read our interview with Republican mayoral candidate Edwin Peacock here. Our endorsement editorial can be read here.

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.