How To Alienate A City: A Lesson From Kenner’s Mayor

Boxes of Nike Shoes

Around 8:45 am Sunday morning, we broke the story that the mayor of Kenner had attempted to ban Nike products from all city recreational facilities. We received a copy of an internal City of Kenner memo and posted it on our Facebook page. According to the document, not only did the mayor want to ensure no city funds were used to purchase Nike products; he wanted to prevent any of the booster organizations who used city facilities from buying and using Nike products as well.

It was the start of a very busy day.

At first, no one believed that the memo was real. After all, the city hadn’t released the memo publicly. Even local council members weren’t informed of the new policy. And no other local news organizations were reporting it.

“You’ve been hoodwinked,” one commenter said on our Facebook post.

It didn’t take long for us to be vindicated. Within a few hours, District 1 Councilmember Gregory Carroll had confirmed the memo and given his thoughts on the matter.

Pretty soon, news outlets across New Orleans were running the story. People were up in arms. The majority felt that not only was this move completely uncalled for – it was illegal and unethical as well.

We all waited for Kenner’s mayor to respond. We waited… and waited… and waited.

In the end, it took a full day before Mayor Ben Zahn crafted a response to the growing firestorm regarding his decision. And the response was… seriously lacking.

“My decision disallowing Nike from profiting from our taxpayers while they are using their powerful voice as a political tool is my message. This government will not let taxpayer dollars be used to promote a company’s or individual’s political position, platform or principle. ”

That is exceedingly hard to believe. In fact, it’s painfully obvious that this move is exactly about Mayor Zahn’s personal political position and agenda than it is anything else. After all, it was only last week that he was caught on video criticizing NFL players who choose to kneel during the national anthem.

“I’m going to ask y’all to stand for what’s about to happen. …Because this is not the NFL football players, right? This is the city of Kenner. In the city of Kenner, we all stand.”

The fact that the memo itself was issued on the same day that Nike unveiled their new ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick is further proof that this move is more a statement of Mayor Zahn’s personal beliefs than it is to protect Kenner’s citizens. Colin Kaepernick is, of course, the former NFL quarterback who began the NFL kneeling protest during the national anthem – a protest that most likely cost him his career, as no team has signed him after the 2016 season when he began the campaign.

According to Brian Williams, a veteran coach of several Kenner recreational programs, the city has never purchased any Nike gear for recreational programs. This is further proof of the point. In a public statement, Coach Williams said that he and other coaches were extremely offended at the implication that the city ever provided enough money for programs to purchase Nike products. He and other coaches have been spending their own money to provide equipment and uniforms for the children in their programs. They buy what gear they can afford out of their own pockets due to the city’s inadequate financial support of the programs. For Mayor Zahn to now dictate to them how they can use the money that they themselves have raised is a complete slap in the face.

New Orleans is unusually progressive for a city in the deep south. And though Kenner is only a suburb, it is home to New Orleans International Airport, and therefore the gateway to New Orleans for many of our visitors. Mayor Zahn’s attempted ban on Nike products is exceedingly tone deaf, especially given the city’s majority African American population – many of whom support Kaepernick’s attempts to raise awareness of racial injustices and inequality in the United States.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell agrees.

As do many citizens of both Kenner and New Orleans. Monday night, hundreds of people gathered in a protest against the Nike ban – including New Orleans Saints players Cam Jordan, Craig Robertson, Terron Armstead, and Chris Banjo.

Even former mayor Mitch Landrieu feels the ban is uncalled for – even unpatriotic.

I, for one, agree. Not only is this an attempt at using a position of political power to further Mayor Zahn’s own personal beliefs – this is also an attempt to stifle the free speech of Kenner residents who choose to support the Nike brand and stand (or rather, kneel) with Colin Kaepernick. It’s a decision that is hurtful to the children who participate in Kenner’s recreational programs.

And it’s not something that the city of Kenner, or any city, should allow to go unchecked.

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