Any landslide electoral victory has multiple explanations, but one factor that clearly worked to New Orleans Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell's benefit was a third-party campaign to raise questions over some of opponent Desiree Charbonnet's associates. So it's perfectly fair to apply the same standard to Cantrell.
And that brings us to the strange case of Derrick Shepherd, the disgraced former legislator who showed up at a recent meeting between the incoming mayor and the city's current representatives and senators in Baton Rouge.
Cantrell has yet to make any major hires, so people are paying close attention to who appears to be in her entourage. State Sen. Conrad Appel confirmed that Shepherd was at the legislative meeting but said he didn't take part in the discussion.
In fact, it wasn't at all clear to lawmakers who spoke to the Advocate, most without attribution, what Shepherd was doing there. But his presence was enough to raise questions. So was the vague answer by a Cantrell aide when questioned by the Advocate, “has no defined role or position in the transition.”
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Shepherd served a stint in federal prison after pleading guilty to a money laundering scheme on behalf of a legal client referred by U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, who was convicted in a separate case and named an unindicted co-conspirator in this one. Shepherd had challenged Jefferson when he was still under investigation and called the congressman unfit for office, only to turn around and endorse him in the runoff, an arrangement that certainly sounds like a tit-for-tat. Shepherd has also been accused on several occasions of domestic violence. As for his record as a lawmaker, he's best remembered for a failed attempt to outlaw baggy pants.
Yet it wasn't until Saturday night, more than 24 hours after the Advocate reported on the meeting, that Cantrell unequivocally distanced herself.
“I want to make it clear that Derrick Shepherd did not accompany me to that meeting nor was he invited to participate,” Cantrell said in a news release. “His presence at the meeting was solely of his own accord. Shepherd does not now nor will he ever have any role in my transition or in my future administration.”
Good answer, but one that would have been a lot better had it come much sooner, before Shepherd's appearance set off the controversy in the first place.
Cantrell already faces questions over questionable City Council credit card spending, and the fact that Attorney General Jeff Landry appears to be pursuing a political investigation doesn't entirely absolve her. This would be a really good time to make sure that whatever she does going forward, and whoever she associates with, is beyond reproach.