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Commentary: Second chances

On Derrick Shepherd's self-serving contrivances

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Doesn't every ex-offen-der deserve a second chance? That's what former state Sen. Derrick Shepherd wants to know — especially as applied to himself. Shepherd was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison in 2010 for his role in a money-laundering scheme, and he recently launched 2nd Chance NOLA (www. 2ndchancenola.com), with the stated goal of helping ex-offenders return to society. It's a worthy goal, but Shepherd's timing suggests it's more about him getting a second chance in politics.

  The backstory: The New Orleans Advocate reported that Shepherd attended a Dec. 18 meeting between New Orleans Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell and local legislators, some of whom were alarmed to see Shepherd there. At least one, state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, walked out. The Cantrell campaign sent mixed messages until a spokesperson categorically denied Shepherd would have any role in Cantrell's transition or administration. Gambit later reported that Shepherd also attended an Algiers luncheon where Cantrell was the featured speaker.

  Criticism of Cantrell's apparent association with the disgraced former lawmaker led to Shepherd cutting what looked a lot like a campaign ad last week. Standing in front of a giant American flag, he complained that "fake local news began to attack me." He did not refute any of The Advocate's or Gambit's reporting, however. "Why can't someone like me contribute to the growth of our city?" Shepherd asked.

  A fair question, and we have an answer: Shepherd is absolutely free to contribute to society, but his violation of the public trust by committing a federal felony — and a crime of egregious dishonesty at that — should absolutely preclude him from appointed or elected public office.

  Shepherd is right that second chances are vital, particularly as the state releases more non-violent offenders. Most of the newly released ex-offenders committed minor state crimes — not major felonies like the federal charges leveled against Shepherd. And unlike Shepherd, most state offenders have neither the education nor the resources to move easily back into society.

  Since his release in 2013, Shepherd told Gambit, he built a general contracting business and self-funded his recent TV ads and 2nd Chance NOLA. He claimed that he has no plans to seek public office at this time, but he would not rule it out, saying that one "never knows where the winds will blow." In 2015, he qualified to run for the Louisiana House of Representatives but was thwarted by a legal challenge.

  Finally, the timing of Shepherd's advocacy raises suspicions. He purchased his 2nd Chance NOLA web domain on Dec. 29 — a week after reports of him attending Cantrell's legislative meeting. In his Gambit interview, Shepherd admitted he picked up the gauntlet only after his presence at the meeting caused a firestorm — and he falsely claimed that no one else had stepped up to help ex-offenders. Truth is many organizations and individuals — from business groups to religious leaders, Republicans as well as Democrats — championed the cause of criminal justice reform from Day One.

  Shepherd is coming late to the party, and he apparently wants to be the guest of honor. Ex-offenders face enough hurdles. They don't need Shepherd complicating their second chances with his self-serving contrivances.

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