Greg LaFleur’s introduction to the Baton Rouge community came in 1976, when LaFleur, a tight end from Ville Platte, Louisiana, made the 90-minute journey east to join the LSU football team.
LaFleur reconnected with Louisiana’s capital city in the late ’80s, when he returned after a six-year NFL career to work in athletic administration at his alma mater.
Twelve years with the Tigers eventually paved the way to a six-year stint as the athletic director at Southern, also in Baton Rouge. And now, after several years out of the public eye following a highly publicized 2011 arrest in Houston, LaFleur is stepping back into the spotlight as a candidate for Baton Rouge mayor and president of East Baton Rouge Parish.
The 57-year-old LaFleur, one of several hopefuls vying to replace term-limited mayor Kip Holden, announced his candidacy in May.
"Believe it or not, public service is kind of part of my DNA," LaFleur told FOX Sports in a phone interview Wednesday. "I considered running for mayor in 2000 but I was in athletic administration and I was enjoying it so much I decided I’d stay there. But then the time came and I felt, ‘Well, this is probably the best time, if I’m ever going to run for office.’"
LaFleur said he first became interested in running for the position in November of last year.
"Having lived in different parts of the country, I feel like I have a diverse experience," said LaFleur, who played for the St. Louis Cardinals and Indianapolis Colts and also served as AD at Chicago State, Huston-Tillotson, in Austin, and Texas State, in San Marcos. "And I think I can bring that to Baton Rouge because I see a lot of potential in our city.
"The priority would be economic development, bringing more jobs," LaFleur continued. "Because by having more jobs we could solve some of our other problems. That’s education — we need to do better with our schools here in East Baton Rouge Parish — and also public safety is a real challenge here. And another one of our main challenges would be improving our traffic."
Though LaFleur is considered a long shot in the race — which includes includes State Sen. Bodi White and former State Sen. Sharon Weston Broome, among others — he says his campaign has been well-received so far.
He also says that the 2011 arrest for allegedly soliciting a prostitute at the Final Four — a booking that effectively cost him his job at Southern — has not dominated the campaign trail thus far. A jury found LaFleur not guilty of the charges in January 2012, and in 2014 he settled a lawsuit against Southern for a reported $150,000.
"Matter of fact, I usually bring it up more than anybody else," LaFleur said of the case. "I haven’t had anybody else bring it up other than when we first made our announcement. It hasn’t been coming up since. … I think people just kind of put it behind them. I think everybody’s just moving forward."
Now the challenge for LaFleur will be finding a way to climb in the polls.
Since 2012, LaFleur has been doing part-time consulting work for a group called TCG Consulting but has spent most of his time traveling the country in his RV, watching his son, Robert Sacre, play with the Los Angeles Lakers. Should LaFleur win the mayor-president race, it would be his first full-time work since his arrest, and he says his experience in athletics makes him the ideal candidate.
I bring the ability to recruit.
"When you work in athletics, the No. 1 priority you have is the ability to recruit," LaFleur said. "Everything we do in athletics is all about recruiting or selling tickets. And that’s what I can bring to the mayor’s office — my ability to recruit businesses to come to Baton Rouge."
However, LaFleur said there’s a possibility his first foray into politics may also prove to be his last should he not get the requisite votes to earn a position in local government.
"I don’t see myself doing this again, but who’s to say what’s going to happen in the next 120 days?" LaFleur said of this fall’s election. "This is a good opportunity, and if there was ever a time, this is the best time to do it. So I don’t know what it’s going to be like after this, and I don’t want to say I’ll never do this again, because you don’t know. Right now I’m just focused on this election."
And should his run ultimately end in victory, LaFleur says it would be an honor to run the city he’s long called home.
"Baton Rouge has been my home for almost 40 years," LaFleur said. "Having gone to school at LSU and, after playing professional football, coming back to LSU and working there for 12 years and going to Southern University and working there for six years, Baton Rouge has meant a lot to me. And I feel like now I can give back to the city."