From the Advocate, New Orleans Edition
March 19, 2013

Jean Lafitte — Hang around Jean Lafitte Mayor Tim Kerner long enough, and the conversation is guaranteed to include two topics: Flood protection and boxing.

The issue of securing levees and other flood protection is almost always Kerner’s primary concern, but it doesn’t take much to get him ruminating about the sweet science. The son of a former welterweight who was also the town’s mayor, Kerner tends to talk about politics using boxing metaphors. So it’s no surprise that his latest project in Jean Lafitte is a boxing gym he hopes will keep the area’s youth off the streets and its residents from getting too flabby around the middle.

“I think it will be good for kids, and it will be good for the community,” Kerner said.

Kerner held a grand opening for the gym, which is in the town’s former fisheries museum, last week, and it will be open for memberships Monday. It features several heavy bags and other apparatus, along with a ring in another room for sparring. There will be showers and a dojo for classes in martial arts and self-defense, he said.

Local boxer Chuck Mince will train fighters at the gym four days a week, but it will be open to the public every day, Kerner said. Memberships are available to anyone interested, not just Jean Lafitte residents.

The gym is the latest example of Kerner repurposing the old fisheries museum, which is obsolete after the town opened a newer facility in its new multi-purpose center near City Hall. Previously, Kerner used the building as a dorm for volunteers who would regularly descend on the Lafitte, Barataria and Crown Point areas after floods to help with rebuilding. In fact, Kerner initially planned to open the boxing gym this summer, but those plans were dashed when Hurricane Isaac flooded the facility and forced the town to start over.

“I always wanted to do it, I needed the room to do it,” Kerner said.

The set-up mirrors one Kerner has in his own home, where he is constantly inviting people over to work out. The mayor trained as a boxer in his youth at a gym in Crown Point and said he and his brother often practiced their pugilistic skills on each other and anyone else who bothered them.

However, his vision for the town’s facility is a little different. In recent months, Kerner has lamented the influx of narcotics in the small fishing community and even pushed for changes in how the town selected its police chief so that he could appoint someone to the position he felt would be more aggressive. The town recently received funding from the Jefferson Parish Council to install crime cameras in some troubled areas, a first for the close-knit community.

Kerner noted that boxing not only provides young people with an outlet, the rigors of training combined with the drug testing for competition make it harder to dabble in narcotics. Boxing teaches discipline, he said, and that discipline can be useful for both the young and old.

“We don’t want everybody fighting people on the street and all that. We want them to be disciplined. We want to teach them discipline whether you’re 15 or 50,” Kerner said. “If you participate in competition, you have to be drug tested and be clean.”

The new gym, 580 Jean Lafitte Blvd., will be open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., and monthly memberships will cost $50, with discounts for senior citizens and students. Kerner said a schedule must still be determined for the kickboxing and other martial arts classes, and there will programs for all age groups.

The town also installed special flooring that can be cleaned easily in case the building floods again. Kerner said the gym also will be available for use by the town’s firefighters and police officers, and he expects to expand offerings at the facility depending on participation.