Oliver Thomas, who served time in prison, has advice for Nagin

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wwltv.com

Posted on February 12, 2014 at 11:20 PM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 12 at 11:41 PM

Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News
Email: mhernandez@wwltv.com | Twitter: @mhernandezwwl

NEW ORLEANS - Former Mayor Ray Nagin is facing more than 45 years in federal prison.

He was convicted of 20 of 21 counts of corruption, including wire fraud, bribery and filing false tax returns.

WBOK radio Good Morning Show host Oliver Thomas has been in Nagin’s shoes. He served on the City Council while Nagin was mayor, and later served three years in federal prison for taking bribes while in office.

“I do know what can happen. Sometimes you can convince yourself if you walk that line or that gray area that there's never criminal intent, that you're not doing anything wrong, but convincing yourself that you're right or wrong doesn't always fall in line with the law,” Thomas said.

“I think anytime you blur the lines, there's some form of saying ‘Yeah you know what, it's not that bad, I'm not really doing anything wrong, everybody else does it.’ That's not good enough.”

Thomas is asking the U.S. Attorney's Office to help put blurred lines in focus by holding regular legal and ethics workshops for public officials.

He has advice for Nagin when the former mayor begins his prison sentence.

“You have an opportunity to look in the mirror at yourself. Don't blame anybody else. Accept responsibility,” said Thomas.

Political analysts say the verdict isn't surprising and closes a tough chapter in New Orleans history.

“Ray Nagin's legacy is that not only was he one of the worst mayors in modern New Orleans history, he ran an incompetent administration, but now we know that it was corrupt to the core,” said University of New Orleans political science professor Ed Chervenak.

“It's the classic Cinderella story that went bad,” said Xavier University public policy professor Silas Lee.

Nagin was elected in 2002 on a platform of reform, and was widely popular at first. But in the months after Hurricane Katrina, Nagin lost favor with the public, leaving office in 2008 with the lowest approval rating of any mayor in recent New Orleans history, said Lee. Now, he’s the city's first mayor to be convicted on federal corruption charges.

Thomas also fell from grace. The beloved longtime councilman was known as someone who could appeal to voters across demographics, and was expected to be a shoe-in to take Nagin’s place as mayor. But Thomas says, there is still an opportunity to serve the community after serving a prison sentence.

“The phoenix rose from the ashes to be the phoenix and you can always do something new or better,” said Thomas.

And as the community turns the page on the Nagin years, Thomas said the former mayor's conviction should be a lesson to every public official, especially those of color, that they must hold themselves to a higher standard.

“We know that there's disparity in sentencing. We know that many African-American defendants get more time, and that's a proven fact,” said Thomas.

Nagin’s sentencing is set for June 11 at 9 a.m.

 

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