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Felicia Kahn, longtime N.O. political activist & Democratic party leader, dies

Lifelong activist made headlines in 2016 as a 90-year-old Louisiana delegate to the Democratic National Convention.
Credit: Uptown Messenger
Felicia Kahn

Felicia Kahn, a longtime local political activist who championed Democratic candidates and causes for more than 60 years and who made headlines in 2016 as one of the oldest delegates to the Democratic National Convention, died Thursday. She was 91.

The 2016 convention was the 10th that Kahn had attended as a Louisiana delegate. It was particularly meaningful for her since delegates nominated Hillary Clinton as the first woman nominated for president by a major political party. Kahn had missed only one convention since 1976 and had been a delegate to five.

“I’ve seen a lot. It’s so exciting," she told USA Today at the time. “What I’ve done over the years is to see the women’s place in the Democratic Party grow and grow and grow. To be there when women were hardly recognized and then to get to (this) place… it’s sort of like my dreams have been fulfilled.”

Kahn’s daughter Elizabeth said Thursday that her mother was active up until her hospitalization this week. “She even had a lunch date on Wednesday which I had to cancel for her, so she was still keeping a full schedule, which was wonderful. She never, ever retired. She was fighting for what she believed in, up until the end.”

Mayor LaToya Cantrell called Kahn a champion of equal rights and women's rights. “Her legacy is hard to overstate. I am grateful to have known her, and to have benefited from her relentless efforts on behalf of the women of this country," Cantrell said in a statement.

Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, also called Kahn a “champion" and "giant." "Her work and passion gained her admiration throughout the country. One was never confused about her values or priorities, she was always in pursuit of the upward mobility and wellness of everyone. With her death we lost a champion for the advancement of women, and our commitment should be to carry on that work with the same determination and vigor.”

In addition to party politics, Kahn was a force in state and local politics over the years. She frequently hosted fundraisers and meetings in their Uptown home for causes and candidates.

Kahn said she saw it as a way to encourage other women to become involved in politics and political causes. “My issue is to get more women speaking out,” Kahn told Millie Ball in a 2016 New Orleans Advocate profile. “I see my life as an activist. I can encourage people to do things. I like to get people together who have similar interests and can benefit from each other.”

A graduate of Isidore Newman School, Kahn’s activism was sparked soon after her graduation from Newcomb College in 1948. In 2016, she told Uptown Messenger columnist and political consultant Danae Columbus that her epiphany came in her senior year at Newcomb. She met well-known preservationist and League of Women Voters president Martha Robinson, who had helped establish the League chapter in the city. “I was very intrigued by Martha. She was a political leader before women were supposed to be.”

Soon, Kahn volunteered for the League herself, serving as president from 1966 to 1969. “There were all these wonderful women who had all these skills and could have been elected officials, but weren’t because people didn’t think of women as being elected officials back then,” Kahn told the New Orleans Advocate.

She eventually decided to leave the league so she could participate in partisan politics. She won an election for the Democratic Party State Central Committee in 1971. “I got interested in women in politics. That’s still my issue, to get more women speaking out,” she said in 2016.

In a statement Thursday, state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, the chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party, applauded Kahn's lifelong activism. "I was born a Democrat, but Felicia Kahn helped raise me into the Democrat I am today. She was a prominent part of my rise in public service and inspired my commitment to women’s equality, and for that I will be eternally grateful. Before I was even old enough to vote, I attended political organizing meetings led by Felicia. Her example made me long to become an advocate for the causes we shared."

Kahn launched two unsuccessful bids for the state legislature but found more success behind the scenes in politics. In addition to the League of Women Voters, she also became involved in the New Orleans Coalition, the Independent Women’s Organization, Common Cause and the National Council of Jewish Women. In 2010, Kahn revived the Independent Women’s Organization after a period of inactivity and became its president at age 84. She also volunteered in countless political campaigns across the state.

Early in her career, she also took a job in the city’s Dept. of Public Welfare but left to start a family with her husband, Charles. The family grew to include two daughters, a son and three grandchildren.

A funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Monday (June 25) at Temple Sinai, 6227 St. Charles Ave. Visitation will begin at 9 a.m.

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