Edwin Edwards steps out for Baton Rouge awards dinner
His hair is thinner, his gait is slower and he has lost some weight in recent months.But if eight years in federal prison dulled Edwin Edwards' trademark wit or energy, it wasn't apparent Tuesday night, when Louisiana's four-term former governor made his first formal public appearance since being released from home incarceration this month.
The occasion was an awards dinner by the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, where Edwards' biographer, Leo Honeycutt, and several other worthy recipients were being honored for their work in historic preservation.
But it was clear from the start who was the star of the show.
Edwards posed for pictures, told off-color jokes and greeted a stream of well-wishers at the Hilton Capital Center, a hotel he once owned when it was called the Capitol House.
After a decade away from the scene, Edwards still remembered details about people and their families. If there were hard feelings left from the racketeering conviction that sent him to prison, they were nowhere to be seen as he received two standing ovations.
"I really feel like I came out of prison more popular than I went in," Edwards said. "I think in some part because people realize that an injustice occurred and that I handled it like a man. I took it. I survived. I said that I would walk out, and I did."
At Edwards' side was Trina Grimes Scott, the 32-year-old Alexandria woman who befriended him in prison and is now his soon-to-be wife. Nearby was Shaun Sanghani, the Louisiana-born TV producer who is in discussions with Edwards about starting a new reality show.
Although Edwards had said he wouldn't talk to the press until a July 30 press conference in New Orleans, in conjunction with a dinner-roast in his honor at the Hotel Monteleone, the governor couldn't resist the lure of cameras and notebooks. And the questioners got a glimpse of the personality that helped him get elected four times despite a string of scandals.
Edwards, on whether he plans to get involved in the fall election campaigns: "If I have a particular enemy running for something, I might endorse him just to destroy his chances."
On whether the 83-year-old retiree can keep up with his new fiancé, who is 51 years his junior: "A man is only as old as the woman he feels."
On the fate of his Democratic Party, which has been decimated in the last decade as Republicans have taken over all statewide elected posts except one U.S. Senate seat. "In the South the Republican Party has pretty well taken over. But one good thing about Louisiana, labels don't mean that much. We're still the same compassionate, concerned people, and I think it applies to the Republicans as much as the Democrats."
On the proposed reality show: "I've never seen a reality show, but I hear about them and I want to assure everyone that if we have one there will be nothing in it that's embarrassing to my state or to me or my family."
So what's next for the governor?
There is the wedding to Scott, which Edwards said would take place "sometime later this month." And a book-signing tour that kicks off next weekend with two stops in Baton Rouge.
So busy is the governor's schedule that his original post-incarceration plans have already fallen by the wayside. After telling interviewers during his prison stint that he planned to climb in his RV and tour the American West upon his release, Edwards announced on his Facebook page last weekend that he was putting the vehicle on consignment.
"I really like it, but it's expensive to maintain and because of my growing schedule it doesn't look like I'll be able to get away for a while," Edwards wrote.
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