Obama's half-sister helps kick off local campaign
Hawaii-born presidential candidate Barack Obama sees Hawaii as "a fabulous model for the kind of America I hope this campaign will bring about."
That was Obama's message to supporters read by his half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, during a campaign kickoff yesterday morning at Kawananakoa Middle School.
It was the first public appearance for Soetoro-Ng on behalf of her older brother, who was born in Hawaii.
"Folks like you are coming together because they are hungry for change," Obama said in a letter read aloud by Soetoro-Ng. "They are tired of the politics that's become a business, and not a mission."
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Volunteer Lee Ann Tokuhara was stationed with Barack Obama pins yesterday at the local kickoff to Obama's presidential campaign at Kawananakoa Middle School. CLICK FOR LARGE
Soetoro-Ng, a teacher at La Pietra -- Hawaii School for Girls, said she will serve as a surrogate for her brother as he campaigns nationally. Her husband and 2-year-old daughter, and Obama's grandmother, will stay in Honolulu.
Soetoro-Ng said Obama likely will visit Hawaii, as is his custom, this winter. Hawaii campaign organizers are hoping to set up a campaign rally at that time.
Soetoro-Ng and Obama share the same mother, Ann Dunham, who died in 1995. Their maternal grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, still lives in the same Beretania Street apartment in which Obama grew up.
Since Obama was thrust into the spotlight, privacy has become an issue for the family, especially for their grandmother, Soetoro-Ng said. Dunham, 84, has osteoporosis.
Reporters and bloggers have called their grandmother. Some have made visits, and tried to push their way in.
"Local folks have been great, very thoughtful," said Soetoro-Ng. "That's not to say that we haven't had some interesting incidents."
Soetoro-Ng said their grandmother wishes she could do more, but her age, bad back and sickness keep her at home.
"She regrets that she can't speak to people about him, and sing his graces," she said. "But it's just too hard. She's completely supportive, and very proud."
Growing up, Soetoro-Ng said, Obama was a supportive older brother who was just as likely to participate in hearty play at the beach or thoughtful conversation. When her father died in 1987, Obama was a source of comfort.
"He was instrumental in helping me make good decisions, and reminding me of my strengths," she said.
Race and Obama's Kenyan heritage have been the focus of many discussions around his candidacy, and Soetoro-Ng said it gets frustrating because Obama comes from a culturally diverse family.
"I think to focus on that is to cheapen things," she said. "He has enough complexity so that when he acts or speaks, he's thinking of people of all races and creeds."
Locally, the campaign hopes to recruit as many as 7,000 supporters to join the Hawaii Democratic Party and vote in the Feb. 19 precinct caucus, campaign coordinator Andy Winer said.
More than 100 people showed up at yesterday's kickoff and planning session.
State Sen. Clarence Nishihara said Obama reflects Hawaii's aloha spirit.
"Internationally, if people find you come from Hawaii, somehow they think we're something special, something out there," Nishihara said. "We provide a different kind of American ... the kind we need to work toward."