Some people can make a big difference without making a lot of noise. Such a man was Kevin Kane, founder and president of the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, who died of complications related to gastrointestinal cancer Oct. 27 at the too-young age of 50.
Kevin, originally from New York’s Long Island, was a Tulane University grad and captain of the university’s rugby team before getting his law degree at Loyola University. During those years, he developed an abiding love of New Orleans’ music and its rich culture. His law-related career took him to Mobile and then back to New York City - but, after seeing the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, he and wife Lesley were determined to move back to New Orleans to help it recover. A libertarian/conservative, Kevin thought that if he founded a research-intensive “think tank,” he could help promote innovative policy options for the city and state.
State think tanks are not lucrative enterprises; most who run them are more inclined toward policy than politics, to solutions rather than sound-bites. Kevin was like that: smart, thoughtful, soft-spoken, and determined to build consensus and coalitions.
Pelican never had a big budget, but in certain areas it had a big impact. Kevin was active in the expansion of school choice in Louisiana (and, as a volunteer, served on the board of the Choice Foundation and Center for Development and Learning, which oversees three New Orleans charter schools), and promoted fiscal discipline and ethics reforms.
Most significantly, Kevin and Pelican for several years played an absolutely seminal role in the successful, bipartisan effort to pass criminal justice reform in Louisiana by providing rehabilitative options, rather than habit-forming jail sentences, for minor offenses.
All the while, at conferences around the country and at visiting conventions in the Crescent City, Kevin was an enthusiastic advocate for his adopted city – for its culture, its recovery, and its potential for progress.
An engaging conversationalist on a wide range of topics, a sophisticated connoisseur of the full gamut of New Orleans’ musical expressions, a leader in church and civic organizations, and a devoted family man, Kevin was a wonderful friend and what once was known as a “boon companion.” As a contributor to civil society, he left a legacy of focused, significant improvements to the civic order.
Kevin never blew his own horn. But he left to New Orleans an abundance of grace notes.
- Quin Hillyer, a New Orleans native and former Managing Editor of Gambit, is a writer and editor now living in Mobile.