PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY BRYANT FUKUTOMI / BFUKUTOMI@STARBULLETIN.COM
Jeremy Harris' lavish public invitations to the city's Brunch on the Beach event are being called a shrewd campaign gimmick by some but drawing criticism from others.
A Political FlapCity Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi is questioning the appropriateness of invitations that Mayor Jeremy Harris mailed out to publicize the monthly Brunch on the Beach event on May 19 in Waikiki.
Fancy mailings to 'Brunch on the
Beach' by the Harris administration
come under scrutiny
By Richard Borreca
Kobayashi, chairwoman of the Council Budget Committee, said she has received complaints, but the Harris administration has refused to give her a detailed breakdown of the mailings. The invitations are so lavish, according to Kobayashi, that they amount to campaigning with city money.
"Many constituents have asked, and they are upset because they feel taxpayers are paying for someone to campaign," Kobayashi said.
Harris is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor this year.
Kobayashi, who is a former chairwoman of the state Senate Ways and Means Committee, also complained that the Harris administration will not provide the Council with details of who is getting invitations and how much they cost.
"The fact that they can't get us any information is curious. With the state, they would provide answers to questions of the committee within the hour," Kobayashi said.
The Harris mailing was an elaborate sepia-colored card stating that "Mayor Jeremy Harris and the Waikiki Improvement Association cordially invite you and your family to Brunch on the Beach." The back of the card again mentions that it is sponsored through Harris and the Waikiki Improvement Association, and features the city's Web site address.
Inside the heavy-stock invitation, there is a separate menu for the various items that will be available for purchase, ranging from "smoked salmon cakes" to "grilled opakapaka tostadas." The food was sold by various Waikiki hotels and restaurants.
The city paid for the cards and the mailing through Hag- adone Printing, said Rick Egged, executive director of the Waikiki Improvement Association.
The city has sponsored 10 Brunch on the Beach programs since last July.
They were designed to draw local residents to Waikiki, Egged said. The city has been mailing out invitations for all the programs.
Egged said the city paid for some of the cards. The city is paying the association $50,000 of $300,000 set aside to fund the entire Brunch on the Beach program.
Kobayashi said the city originally estimated the cost at $300,000 but that during testimony on the budget, Harris officials said the total costs for Brunch on the Beach and the city's free weekend movies totaled nearly $1 million.
"I would think there is a political advantage to this," Kobayashi said. "At these events the mayor has been speaking and passing out fliers about how the City Council is going to cut funds for these things, why aren't they lobbying for more equipment for the police, more equipment for the Fire Department and more park maintenance."
Egged said he considered the invitations to be a part of marketing Waikiki.
"I don't think this would be considered a campaign piece. We use it to get the people to come out," Egged said.
He and an executive assistant in Harris' office planned the events and the invitations, but he did not have more information about whom the mailings were sent to or how much they cost.
City spokeswoman Carol Costa failed to return telephone calls asking for more information on the program.
"We pay Hagadone to do the mailing, and the city decides how it is going out," Egged said. He added that the city provides the tents, umbrellas, chairs and stage for the event.
"I asked, 'Where in the budget is this money coming from?' It is not a small amount of money, and if there is that much money there, we can use it," said Kobayashi, who has criticized Harris' budget plans.
"I asked them about it and they say they don't know. Not only the printing of the invitations and the postage, but what about the outdoor carpets and the tables and the chairs?" Kobayashi said.
University of Hawaii-Hilo political scientist James Wang said invitations and the beach brunches probably would be considered both political and a public service, but in the end they are mostly a "campaign gimmick."
"If you can do something to attract a big crowd, it is probably considered campaigning, and if the mayor is clearly associated with it, it would probably be campaigning," Wang said.
"It is something that spreads the candidate's name, but it is hard to tell because it would be a public function and a service," Wang said.
"In the end, I would consider it to be a smart campaign gimmick, because everyone will know who is sponsoring it."
Former Mayor Frank Fasi, who will run for mayor when Harris resigns to run for governor, said he would also consider the events and the invitations campaigning.
"It makes the public feel they are getting something for nothing," Fasi said.
City & County of Honolulu
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