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Why Cannon Backfired

Black caucus divisions, backlash from arena battle doomed campaign


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"It hurt the (Democratic) Party and it hurt black politics," said Graham.

When Cannon declared his mayoral intentions, he didn't realize how extensive the damage to his reputation had been.

"I think he underestimated how some people felt about that and a lot of other things," says one African-American political observer.

For the record, others downplayed the significance of the battle between Graham and Cannon.

"I know there were some hard feelings between them and during Graham's (state senate) campaign there was tension, but I thought they fixed that and shook hands," said Mitchell. "I thought that was over with."

Meanwhile, in the white community, hangover from the 2001 arena referendum crash was causing fundraising problems for the campaign, observers say. The way they tell it, supporters of the arena referendum had depended heavily on the support of the black community to pass the referendum, as is often the case with referenda and bond issues.In the months leading up to the hastily concocted referendum, Cannon had pushed for affordable housing bonds to share the arena ballot. He got the support of the Charlotte Chamber, but in the end the bonds didn't make the cut, which angered him. At the same time, the council's lack of enthusiasm for mandating a "living wage" for its employees didn't go over so well in the black community, either. A few weeks before the election, a poll showed a large percentage of African-Americans supported the arena, but by the Sunday before the vote, many African-American ministers had reversed their positions on the arena referendum. Volunteers who were supposed to work the polls in black precincts decided to stay home.

The reasons black leaders and ministers gave for their opposition were the living wage and the ditching of Cannon's affordable housing bonds, which eventually passed in a later election. Because of the affordable housing issue in particular, and because credible members of the black political establishment still credit Cannon and City Council member Susan Burgess for a behind-the-scenes campaign to take down the referendum, some say resentment toward Cannon has smoldered in elite circles.

Of course, those who defend him point to the fact that Cannon had little trouble raising well over $100,000 in his last at-large council campaign, saying that is evidence there's no bad blood between Cannon and the city's power brokers.

But Stan Campbell, a former Republican City Council member and unacknowledged political hit man for the city's moneyed power class, says there's a big difference between running in a four-way race and a two-way race.

"That's when you really find out who your friends are," Campbell said. "You could find out that you don't have as many as you thought you did."

In a four-way race, people donate to their third or fourth choice for office if they think they'll win and want to curry favor. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they like or support those candidates, Campbell explained, or that they wouldn't jump at the chance to take them out later if they became vulnerable to loss.

Given the city's voter registration, it is virtually guaranteed that an African-American politician will win an at-large seat. Cannon's race and his popularity insulated him from the uptown crowd's retribution for a long time.The shock of Cannon's abandonment by some well-heeled white Democratic donors who could always be counted on for a check left some of the party's white grassroots activists reeling.

Perhaps they should have seen it coming. The invitation for McCrory's April 13 fundraiser should have hit the politically attuned like a punch between the eyes. The invitation listed the names of 71 Charlotte power brokers, including some prominent Democrats, as sponsors. For many of these folks, writing a check to a campaign, or even both campaigns in a race, is typical and means little. For them to sign on as sponsors of McCrory's event is a rare statement of commitment. For them to do it when McCrory still hadn't made a final decision about running could be interpreted only one way: It was a near lock-step rejection of Cannon.

Cannon's campaign manager, Jennifer Gullette, denies her boss was facing insurmountable fundraising obstacles and attributes his slow start to personal problems.

"I think the momentum had slowed down for the last couple weeks because Patrick had a lot on his plate," said Gullette. "His mind seemed to be elsewhere and that did get frustrating to folks. I think that's because Patrick was struggling with so much. Obviously there is quite a bit going on in his personal life."

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