Fred Clasen-Kelly, Charlotte Observer, January 26, 2011
When a white nationalist magazine announced a conference in Charlotte, anarchists and other groups vowed to protest or disrupt the gathering.
But behind the scenes the conference apparently met an unexpected obstacle: Charlotte City Council member Patrick Cannon.
On Wednesday, American Renaissance magazine said plans for its annual conference are now in limbo because the hotel where it was scheduled to take place canceled the reservation.
An e-mail Cannon sent to a constituent early this week suggested he was lobbying local hotels to refuse to book American Renaissance.
Cannon wrote that he had contacted hotels and that “they seem to be cooperating.”
“An attempt was made for accommodations at another hotel but based on what I ask to take place they were denied again,” the e-mail said.
Jared Taylor, American Renaissance editor, said Cannon’s e-mail violated the First Amendment.
“It’s unconscionable (that) public officials would try to interfere in private contractual affairs,” Taylor said. “We have never run into this before.”
In a brief interview Wednesday, Cannon said he sent the e-mail to “update a constituent on where things stood.”
“By no means would I be in the business of trying to violate someone’s rights,” Cannon said.
The news came on the same day that the Jewish Defense Organization posted a statement on its website, saying City Council member Warren Turner sent an e-mail to Charlotte hotels about the conference.
Turner denied contacting hotels to stop the conference.
But the hotel released a statement Wednesday saying officials canceled the reservation for the safety of guests. Organizers did not reveal the nature of the conference when they booked the hotel, the statement said.
Taylor, the magazine editor, disputed the hotel’s account. “We leveled completely with the hotel,” he said. “They said they understood.”
American Renaissance has tried to reserve rooms at other hotels but has been rebuffed, Taylor said.
Taylor said Cannon’s e-mail reflected intolerance and was “profoundly hypocritical.”
Richard Toenjes, associate director of UNC Charlotte’s Center for Professional and Applied Ethics, said Cannon’s e-mail could be construed as a violation of free speech.
“If the person used his or her name which would be recognized as the name of a council member, I’d say the member was functioning as a public official and hence out of line interfering with protected free speech,” Toenjes said.
But Scott Huffmon, a professor of political science at Winthrop University, said merely warning hotels about the upcoming conference is within the rights of elected officials.
“Alerting the hotels and saying this isn’t good for our image is using the bully pulpit, but not necessarily unethical,” Huffmon said. “If he tried to use the position to cajole, coerce or bully that would be different.”