Giugni paid favor to the high and the low
It is August 1980, and I am one confused reporter trying to get into New York's Madison Square Garden to cover the Democratic National Convention.
Mobs of political and media megastars are rushing through the corridors to make news on the brightly lit convention floor. I am something less than pond scum on the media food chain. At the top there is CBS' Ed Bradley wearing an earphone and an antenna, stalking politicians. At the bottom there is Richard Borreca, clutching an enormous, beat-up Sony tape recorder and bearing the less-than-prestigious credentials of KHVH-News Radio from Honolulu, Hawaii.
I am just about to write my epithet as the reporter who came the farthest to report the least, when Henry Giugni, resplendent in his traditional convention garb of seersucker suit and suspenders, comes up and offers me his convention floor pass.
Convention security wasn't as tight as it is today, but floor passes have always been the most precious of convention commodities, and for Giugni, who at the time was Sen. Dan Inouye's chief of staff, to offer up his pass was no small help.
"Just bring it back when you are through," Giugni says.
Doing favors was much of what defined Henry Giugni, who died last Tuesday of congestive heart failure in Washington. His genius was not just in helping, but how he seemed to be there for anyone regardless of rank.
"I'm just a simple, poor Hawaiian boy," Giugni, of Hawaiian and Italian ancestry, would recite to everyone he met.
As chief of staff and sometimes political alter-ego for Inouye, Giugni could be a remorseless political operative who would make and execute the tough decisions. But he also was the person in Washington who as Senate sergeant-at-arms remembered birthdays and spouse's names of doormen, security guards and senators alike.
"Henry always paid attention to those folks who were down, because he said, 'Someday you will be down and they will be up, so I treat everyone alike,'" Jeff Watanabe, attorney and Giugni friend, recalled.
"He understood Washington and that was how the poor kid from Honolulu became a player in a town full of players," Watanabe recalled.
After four years as sergeant-at-arms, Giugni went to work for Cassidy and Associates, one of the Capitol's largest lobbying organizations. He would alternate between taking people from Honolulu on personal Capitol tours to putting together meetings between American defense contractors and defense officials from foreign countries. He could do business with university presidents and elevator operators equally.
In Los Angeles in 2000, Giugni went to his last national convention. The 2004 event had too much security and not enough flash and excitement for Giugni.
I last saw him this summer, parking his huge Lexus, asking the cop in the Hart Office Building basement about his kids and telling me, "I've still got it, you know."
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Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin. He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org