Mayor collects $2M for election coffer
Though no foe has surfaced, Hannemann is raising campaign funds and his profile
STORY SUMMARY »
Mayor Mufi Hannemann has raised $2 million for his re-election coffer even though no one is running against him this year.
His war chest would make it difficult for anyone to challenge him at this point, political observers say.
Hannemann's next fundraiser will be a $500-a-person event next week at the Sheraton Waikiki, where 10 food booths will cater to 1,000 to 1,200 invited guests.
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CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Mayor Mufi Hannemann joins Lanakila Meals on Wheels supporters at a City Hall rally. Political observers say one of Hannemann's strong points as a campaigner is the high visibility he has attained by attending many community events.
Mayor Mufi Hannemann calls himself a 24/7 mayor.
He is everywhere. His public schedule is typically stacked with events as small as leadership classes at local high schools or grand parades that are sure to draw crowds and photo opportunities.
"He gets around the community," said Dan Boylan, a local political observer and a history professor at the University of Hawaii at West Oahu. "Certainly where two or three people who are anybody gather, Mufi seems to be there."
In a year in which the presidential elections are dominating political headlines, Hannemann has been slowly -- and quietly -- gearing up his campaign for re-election. But with no contenders speaking up and Hannemann's campaign fund increasing to more than $2 million, political observers say at this point it will be tough for any challenger to jump into the mayor's race.
"It's still possible, but there doesn't seem to be much inclination," said Neal Milner, a University of Hawaii political scientist. "You need something that's really visible or controversial that the mayor did, and I don't think that there are any of those things right now."
During Hannemann's three years as mayor, he has tackled several controversial issues: a planned $3.7 billion mass transit system from Kapolei to Ala Moana, extending the landfill on the Leeward Coast for at least another year and a half, raising sewer fees to upgrade the aging sewer lines and pushing thousands of Oahu's homeless out of major city parks to do cleanups.
In recent interviews, Hannemann said most of his time has been focused on mayoral duties, and he will center his campaign around his work at Honolulu Hale.
"I've been saying, if you just do a good job as mayor, that's the best way to tell people that we deserve another four years," Hannemann said. "We have a record I'm very proud of. Should we have any opposition, I'm willing to debate any time, anywhere."
DESPITE a fierce mayoral race in 2004 -- where Hannemann narrowly beat former City Councilman Duke Bainum -- no challengers have expressed serious interest in running for mayor.
Mayoral candidates have until July 22 to file with the state Office of Elections. However, in March 2004, Hannemann and Bainum were already aggressively campaigning with television ads and campaign signs.
Political observers say the fact that Hannemann is an incumbent and has raised a large sum of money that will be hard to match could scare off potential challengers.
Political insiders have speculated whether Hannemann's most vocal critics -- City Council members Ann Kobayashi and Charles Djou -- would run against Hannemann, but both have said they are interested in other political positions.
"I've been concentrating on running for re-election because it's my last term," said Kobayashi, who represents areas from Makiki to Kapahulu.
Djou, who constantly criticizes Hannemann on government spending, has announced he will be running for Congress in 2010.
"I have considered (running for mayor)," Djou said. "I do think somebody needs to challenge the mayor because power unchecked is bad for our society and democracy. I don't think anyone is calling Mufi Hannemann on a lot of things."
Hannemann said he will still campaign hard despite no contender in sight.
"We have worked too long and too hard to get here," Hannemann said. "I'm not going to rest on my laurels. I'm not going to be complacent. I'm going to run like an underdog."
Milner said for a challenger to step in at this point in the year, he or she would need to counter Hannemann on specific issues as a campaign base, become more visible in the community by creating a grass-roots campaign and raise money -- fast.
HANNEMANN has built his campaign war chest through donations large and small, from intimate coffee hours to $500-a-plate fundraisers. His next fundraiser will be at the Sheraton-Waikiki Hotel on April 2 at $500 per person, with 1,000 to 1,200 invited with 10 food booths catered by top restaurants in Hawaii, said fundraising volunteer Lisa Kim.
In the last three years, Hannemann has raised $43,905 from city workers, primarily from his Cabinet members. Hannemann also has garnered support of major local unions, including the United Public Workers, and several political action committees.
Hannemann also received money from large firms contracted to work with the city. Perhaps the largest is PB Americas, formerly known as Parsons Brinckerhoff, an engineering firm awarded nearly $100 million in contracts for work on the elevated mass transit system.
He received $12,000 since 2005 from Parsons Brinckerhoff executives and $4,000 in 2007 from its political action committee.
Hannemann has also received money from at least two transit companies, Bombardier and Alstom Transport at $2,000 and $1,000 respectively, that submitted information on their rail systems to the city.
Hannemann said he will accept contributions from any person or company as long as the money is legal. However, he asserts that contributions do not buy any favors.
"At the end of the day, I'm not going to do procurement," Hannemann said. "It's going to come from the panel that's set up. I make no promises for anyone that contributes to me. It doesn't buy them access. It doesn't buy them a contract."
BEHIND Hannemann, there stands a campaign team of loyal friends, many of whom stayed out of the political arena until their longtime friend needed help.
"They're the ones that know you best," Hannemann said.
Dean Okimoto, serving as Hannemann's campaign manager, has known Hannemann since the two took a German class at Iolani School. The campaign's treasurer, Gilbert Korenaga, was also a high school classmate.
"He was a big thing when he came to Iolani," Okimoto recalled. "We all heard about this guy coming in, 6-foot-tall athlete. We became good friends ever since."
Okimoto took over for Trudi Saito, one of Hannemann's most trusted advisers, who help run his 2004 campaign and has since became the city's deputy managing director.
Hannemann said he will start strategizing with his campaign team after the April fundraiser. They have yet to set up a campaign headquarters and to contact supporters to begin a grass-roots campaign again.
Hannemann, 53, declined to say whether he is looking at running for higher office in the future.
"I'm not thinking beyond '08," Hannemann said. "I've seen too many other politicians start looking ahead. The immediate target goal is September and possibly November this year."