Richar Borreca

On Politics


Sunday, June 2, 2002

He’s finally down for
the count ... isn’t he?

The words came out clear and strong: "I can't win." If Roberto Duran were a Hawaii politician instead of a Panamanian boxer, it would be the same: "No mas, no mas."

Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris folded Thursday, not in a display of political smarts, not because his opponents had pummeled him senseless, but simply because the going got too tough.

In sports everyone wants to win. No one gets up to the last minute in a big game without saying, "I want to win." The winner, however, is the person or team that simply refuses to lose.

Twice now Harris has stepped up to the big race and flinched. In 1998, he was mobilizing to take on Ben Cayetano as the embattled Democratic governor was fighting for re-election in the middle of a recession.

Then, at the state Democratic convention, after meeting with Cayetano and Hawaii's senior senator, Dan Inouye, Harris ducked out of the race. Later Cayetano supported Harris for re-election and the political scale seemed balanced.

But Harris still wanted to be governor.

Within months of winning re-election, Harris announced for governor, using the curious logic that he was forced to start because of the Campaign Spending Commission rules that required him to begin before he could spend money on a campaign for governor.

The campaign, however, had already taken a couple of torpedoes below the waterline and it would be just a matter of time before the damage was discovered.

The Campaign Spending Commission was investigating why thousands of dollars in the Harris campaign were from people who said they didn't give him money. At the same time, the Harris campaign had accepted $750,000 from people and companies linked to dozens of city contractors.

Those charges are now before the city prosecutor, and the FBI and the IRS also are poking around. Hawaii's political morality may be closer to the Big Easy than zero tolerance, but the concerns that some higher-ups in the Harris campaign could face criminal charges is a troubling shadow to every move Harris makes.

The looming investigation fit in nicely with what some Democrats say is Harris's own mindset. Even when he was running for mayor of Kauai, Harris complained to the state Democratic Party that he was being sabotaged and discriminated against.

Now Harris has realized his own fears and marked himself as a politician who can't win. Duran came back to be the only fighter ever to fight in five or more decades and two millennia, but no one ever called Harris "Fists of Stone."

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at

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