David Shapiro
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By David Shapiro

Saturday, May 22, 1999

Vitriol consumes
city leaders

MAYOR Jeremy Harris and City Councilman Mufi Hannemann must be popular politicians judging by their strong victories the last time they stood for election.

But each also has as vehement a collection of detractors as any elected official in Hawaii. And each is the president of the other's anti-fan club. These men who say they prize rational thought detest each other beyond all reason.

Star-Bulletin editors got an up-close view of the mutual vitriol when the two demanded to appear before us in separate meetings to argue their cases on the city budget.

First came Harris, who complained that Hannemann's proposal to eliminate assistant directors in most city departments was an attempt to legislate the executive branch out of existence.

I wondered why the mayor was whining to us about it, noting that the City Charter gives him a fair amount of power to strike back. I asked him what he intended to do.

"As soon as I finish here, I'm going back to City Hall to hold a news conference," he said.

Next came Hannemann, who said his proposed budget was a "preliminary" version unlikely to pass the Council. But he whined that an extreme message was needed to get honest budget numbers out of Harris.

"Councilman," I asked, "when do you suppose you guys are going to stop making news for your chickenbleep (not the actual word used) games and start making news for doing good things for the people of Honolulu?"

He didn't get it. He went on defending the game-playing for another half-hour.

Six of his colleagues on the Council got it that voters are tired of games and want to see real work getting done at City Hall. A few days later, they threw out Hannemann as Council chairman and installed Jon Yoshimura.

Hannemann whined about disloyalty to him and capitulation to Harris. Lost on him was that a year ago it was Hannemann leading an overthrow of the previous Council leadership for failing to maintain civility with the mayor. Back then, Harris and Hannemann fashioned the city reorganization approved by voters last year and it looked like they might work together to make Honolulu a better place to live. So much for dreaming.

Harris and Hannemann are smart men with much talent. If they showed less pointless aggression and more good sense, both could be major players in the coming political reshaping of Hawaii.

But for all their ability, they have immense flaws. It starts with their failure to restrain ugly ambition that breeds mistrust of their every motive.

IN Hannemann's world, everything revolves around Mufi. He often sees things only as they relate to him. In the budget fight, he thought his feud with the mayor was the most important thing and couldn't see the bigger picture. He still can't see that he was responsible for his own ouster.

Harris is a control freak who wants to shape all debate by spinning every piece of information he puts out. Hannemann is right that you have to hold your nose to buy some of the information Harris sends to the Council.

Donna Mercado Kim, Arnold Morgado and Frank Fasi have had the same foam-at-the-mouth reaction to the mayor's truthfulness. If doubt about his veracity takes hold with the voting public, Harris will see his career fizzle fast.

For now, Harris and Hannemann will continue to paint the other as the embodiment of political evil. They might just convince the public that they're both right.

David Shapiro is managing editor of the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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