Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Politics Of Free Food

In the past few months, Kenner has had several distributions of free food coordinated by the transportation/logistics company CRC. The company collects food from grocers that is expired or close to its sell by/use by date and distributes that to Food Banks and through other avenues. 
There were two recent free food distributions at Divine Mercy Church in Kenner. I didn’t attend either because, thankfully, I don’t miss many meals and I’m fortunate enough to not need free food. In addition I’m told, the second one was just free Sweet Potato Pies (obviously WalMart vastly overestimated Kenner’s Sweet Potato Pie cravings). 
Now, before you get defensive and the haters out there start calling me bitter because I didn’t get any free pie, I appreciate CRC making the effort to distribute food to the needy (even if many in the lines at Divine Mercy were not truly needy – if you’re driving a 2017 Cadillac Escalade how much do you really need some free grub?) or, that for those not aware, Divine Mercy Church is in North Kenner in one of Kenner's most affluent neighborhoods. 
I didn’t even complain or post that there were many elected officials and candidates participating in handing out the food (and, in turn, making themselves look good to potential voters – sorry if that’s the cynic in me coming out).
However, there was another food distribution on February 24th that I do have some major issues with.
Again, I’m not going to criticize CRC as I don’t know if they were a part of the duplicity of some elected officials and candidates or if they were just “useful idiots” in the process.
I’d like to believe in the altruism of Ronnie Mains and CRC.
However, this food distribution was different.
Instead of food being made available to anyone, or CRC actually using a list of the truly needy from Kenner’s Food Bank (we are the only city in the state by the way that has its own food bank) or a list of residents that rely on Meals on Wheels, this food distribution was limited to families that send their children to Kenner Discovery School.
Not just "needy" KDHSA families – any family regardless of income.
And, to make matters worse, the food distribution occurred on public school property (KDHSA is a Public Charter School) and included Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn and two candidates for office that Zahn is endorsing, Kenner Council-At-Large candidate Kristi McKinney and JP Sheriff candidate Johnny Fortunato (whose wife just happens to work as a political appointee of Zahn’s despite the fact that she is not a Kenner resident. I know, semantically she is not a “Director” and not covered by the City Charter but, that is semantics and Ben Zahn clearly knows the spirit and intent of the Charter).
According to Zahn, he was invited to participate by Ronnie Mains of CRC.
Fine. He’s the Mayor of Kenner, even if you and I question his true motives and think he should have known better. But why were McKinney, Fortunato and their t-shirt wearing volunteers also there?
In an article on Nola.com written by Michelle Hunter, Fortunato’s campaign manager, the infamous Greg Buisson (who has never met an ethics rule that he didn’t try to skirt) says that Fortunato was also invited by Mains (who happens to be a Fortunato supporter himself and gave Fortunato the max contribution available, $2,500 this election cycle. By the way, Mains through CRC and various companies has also contributed $14,000 through the years to JP's Sexual Predator-in-Chief Mike Yenni and another $3,500 to the aforementioned Ben Zahn).
In the article, Fortunato himself says that his volunteers were canvassing a nearby Kenner neighborhood and stopped by at Mains’ request.
“We look at it as we were only there, just like Kiwanis and just like anyone else who was there to volunteer time to serve a purpose for the needy,” Fortunato said.
Ok…so how do you explain the vehicles with Fortunato signs and advertising on them prominently placed on school grounds and the fact that you and your volunteers also “just happened” to participate in another CRC food distribution the next day in Marrero?
I guess you were just canvassing there too, right?
In any event, Fortunato, McKinney and Zahn should not be using free food to help their campaigns. Even if Zahn is the Mayor of Kenner and was “invited” by Mains, he knows better and he certainly knows better than to participate in a food distribution at a public school that wasn’t sanctioned by the JP School Board or even KDHSA’s Principal.
Buisson, who is the campaign manager for all three (Zahn, McKinney and Fortunato) also knows better. Unfortunately, he doesn’t care and this entire incident would have been swept under the rug if a complaint were not filed and the Jefferson Parish Public School System notified.
And, regardless of your politics, that’s just wrong.
Do we, as citizens, really want a Mayor, a Councilman-At-Large or a Sheriff that pushes the ethical envelope until they are caught?
Do we, as citizens, really want a Mayor, a Councilman-At-Large or a Sheriff using food destined for the needy as a campaign tool?
Shouldn’t we, as citizens, expect more?
Hopefully, CRC will not include any candidates in future food distributions. As a private company, CRC can certainly give food to whomever they want but, as Mains himself said, “Some things should be above politics. Supporting our community by helping the needy should not be one of them.”
I agree 100% Mr. Mains. So why invite candidates and their volunteers and make the food distribution political? 
Now, I’m sure that KDHSA has many needy families although I’m also relatively certain that if Mr. Mains and CRC really believes they are “helping the needy”, future food distributions should be in Kenner’s poorer neighborhoods and available to all the “truly needy”. 
Restricting the food distribution to only KDHSA families, without regard to need (while certainly CRC’s right) contradicts Mr. Mains’ stated goal of “helping the needy”. What about families with children at other Kenner schools? Will they also get distributions of food (hopefully without the politicking)? 
What about families without children, the disabled, the elderly or those without transportation to get to a CRC free food distribution? Don't they also deserve help? 
It’s also ironic that in the article, CRC’s Chief Operating Officer Robert Gadola said, “We’re not in the political world; we’re in the business world.”
The irony isn’t just the fact that CRC “invited” politicians and their volunteers to assist them or even that a CRC truck had a Forunato ad on it or even that a company claiming to not be "in the political world" has contributed tens of thousands of dollars the campaigns of many elected officials and candidates.

No, the real irony is that Gadola himself was one of Kenner’s three nominees for a spot on the New Orleans Aviation Board that Zahn recently submitted to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. 
Evidently, Gadola was suggested to Zahn by Jefferson Parish Councilman Dominick Impastato, also a Buisson client and a staunch supporter of McKinney. Oh, and Impastato is also a former Kenner City Councilman for District 5, in which Divine Mercy Church happens to be located. 

Did I mention that Impastato also has received thousands in campaign contributions from CRC?

Funny how people that claim to not be in the “political world” are nominated for powerful, politically-appointed boards.
I guess, after this post is published, that means there will be no free Sweet Potato Pie for me.
But, that's ok. You can have my share, Dominick.

Besides, your pie hole is way bigger than mine.

Just make sure you chew real good.

I wouldn't want you to choke on it.