Former State Sen. Derrick Shepherd says he and other ex-offenders who have done their time should be given a second chance.
Tuesday he spoke to FOX 8 News about that and the controversy over his being at a meeting where the incoming mayor of New Orleans and some state lawmakers were in attendance.
Shepherd has launched a new website, www.2ndchancenola and is running TV commercials after media coverage which focused on his past legal issues following a December breakfast meeting where Mayor-Elect Latoya Cantrell and local state legislators were present.
"Almost 12 years ago I made a terrible mistake that cost me, my family and the community, including my 21-year military career," Shepherd says in a video.
At another point in the video he talks about the meeting that made headlines.
"I helped cater a breakfast, while working the Mayor-Elect said a kind word to me, quote, Derrick Shepherd it's good to see you, I believe in second chances, too. From that the fake local news began to attack me," Shepherd said.
During the Tuesday afternoon interview Shepherd talked about his complaint about the media attention to his past and his new campaign designed to help former offenders.
"Well, it all was precipitated because of a meeting at a local church where the mayor-elect was and I happened to be in attendance helping out with the catering event as well and all of a sudden I was the boogeyman or a bad guy because I just happen to be in attendance. Now I'm someone who's fully paid my debt to society. I give back," said Shepherd.
Shepherd spent time in federal prison after a guilty plea related to money laundering charges.
He said he and others should not be defined by their past.
"I feel that if someone like me, my past is going to be attacked then there are thousands of people out there who don't have a voice at all, so I just felt the need to stand up and say now is the time for us to rally, to come out of the closets, if you will and speak out," said Shepherd.
Dr. Robert Collins, Ph.D., is a Professor of Urban Studies and Public Policy and teaches urban politics at Dillard University in New Orleans.
"I think most reasonable people will be on his side on that issue. I think the other issue here was just the optics of having him at a meeting with current legislators and the mayor-elect which I think most people that understand politics are going to understand that's going to be distracting especially when you have the current mayor-elect who's under investigation for a credit card scandal potentially," Dr. Collins stated.
The state attorney is investigating Cantrell's use of a city council credit card. She remains on the council until the May swearing inaugural.
Cantrell insists she did not do anything wrong.
And Cantrell issued a statement saying she did not invite Shepherd and that he will have any role in her administration.
Shepherd was asked by FOX 8 News if he is seeking employment in Cantrell's administration.
"No, I was at that meeting just helping, I was not seeking a position with Latoya Cantrell's administration, I wish her the best, but I do know now that she needs a position in her administration to deal with the formerly incarcerated or people who are seeking second chances," he said in response.
Dr. Collins said Cantrell had to issue such a statement.
"Because if she had not done that then there would have been continuing questions, not just from the public and from the media, but from members of this state legislative delegation," Collins said.
Shepherd said he is working for his father and is funding the website and ad campaign out of his own money.
He envisions a rally and other activities involving those seeking a second chance.
"Someone has been waiting for a flag to be planted so that people can rally and say, yes, I feel that same situation, so I'm hoping it goes well," said Shepherd.
"I think the timing is good for him, I think it's actually smart for him to do that especially with the state legislature just passing a corrections reform bill and with the governor signing the bill."
"Why can't someone like me be given a second chance? I've paid my debt to society, I give back, I've spoken to over hundreds of young people about my past and what not to do," continued Shepherd.
Dr. Collins said political comebacks happen but tend to be rare.
"I think before people will be willing to accept him back into the political fold I think they're going to want to see a record of accomplishments, a record of giving back into the community…If I was advising him I would say, do a lot of community service, work with a lot of non-profits, stay positive, don't attack people, don't attack the media," said Dr. Collins.