Kevin Kane, president and founder of the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, a conservative and libertarian "think tank" in New Orleans, died at a New Orleans hospice Thursday of gastrointestinal cancer. He was 50.
“Kevin was a thoughtful, soft-spoken, highly intelligent and principled man who loved New Orleans deeply,” said Quin Hillyer, the New Orleans-born writer.
Nearly a year after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, Kane and Deroy Murdock, a columnist at National Review Online, talked about creating a policy institute to push conservative ideas for the city’s rebuilding, Hillyer said.
Kane was living in New York at the time but wanted to return to New Orleans, where he had gone to college, because he “felt such a deep impulse to help New Orleans recover,” Hillyer said.
The Pelican Institute was created in 2008. Its mission, according to its website, is “to conduct scholarly research and analysis that advances sound policies based on free enterprise, individual liberty and constitutionally limited government.”
For eight years, Kane “worked through Pelican and also in volunteer work, such as serving on the board of a charter school, to help forge friendly alliances aimed at improving governance in the city and state,” Hillyer said.
While Kane was committed to libertarian and conservative principles, “what really interested him was the possibility of finding solutions that could draw support across partisan and ideological lines,” Hillyer said. As examples, he pointed to Kane’s advocacy for charter schools and “his tireless and successful work at pushing criminal sentencing reform.”
Sentencing reform draws support across the political spectrum and is especially critical in Louisiana, which jails nonviolent offenders at a much higher rate than other Southern states but shows no accompanying decrease in crime.
Kane supported strong punishment for violent crimes but favored alternative sentencing and rehabilitation for lesser offenses.
He “was a tireless advocate for New Orleans among friends and peers nationwide in ways too numerous to count,” Hillyer said.
Kane was born in Mineola and grew up in Port Washington, both on New York's Long Island.
He graduated from high school in Port Washington and earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Tulane University, where he was captain and president of the rugby team. He received a law degree from Loyola University Law School.
Kane was a member of the Rotary Club and the Stratford Club and a member and elder of St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church. He served on the boards of the Choice Foundation and the Center for Development and Learning.
Survivors include his wife, Lesley Vance Kane; two daughters, Margaret and Vivian Kane; his mother, Kate Stowe Kane; and two brothers, David and Tim Kane.
A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Friday at St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church, 1545 State St., New Orleans. Visitation will begin at 1 p.m.