Hawaii's World

By A.A. Smyser

Tuesday, August 27, 1996

Harris held his own
in mayoral debate

HEIGHT does not correlate with competence to govern. Yet, by luck of the draw at last Thursday's mayoral debate, Mayor Jeremy Harris, who is 6-foot-3, stood between his two shorter opponents who were denied risers.

It was the high ground and he held it serenely as charges of lying and misrepresentation came at him from both sides. He fired back a few of his own.

Former Mayor Frank Fasi, 76 today, four months older than I am, seemed strident and looked old as he said he'd like to come back to serve eight more years now that he has that resign-to-run-for-governor thing out of his system. Harris said he has no intention to run for governor in 1998 but didn't pledge to the high heavens he won't.

Former Council Chairman Arnold Morgado came through as handsome in the manner of popular former Mayor Neal Blaisdell. Also as sincere but passionless.

In tune with opinion polls, Harris' foes made crime the major issue. They hit him for not beefing up the police force faster. He answered effectively that arresting people is not the problem. The problem is the state's revolving door justice system that puts lawbreakers with dozens of arrests back on the streets quickly. Harris is working with the state to build a tented barracks-like camp near Waiawa to keep low-security offenders off the streets.

To me, it was Harris' night. With due regard for Fasi's past accomplishments and claims that many of the good things Harris is doing were Fasi-inspired, the fact remains that Harris, as Fasi's No. 2 man, helped get them on the tracks and now is carrying them out with a smoothness that would have eluded the pug-nacious ex-mayor.

Imagine automating garbage pickups at 66,800 homes with a resulting big work-force reduction, and no loud public squawks from the United Public Workers!

Imagine reducing the city work force by 437 people or 4.5 per cent in two years with none of the outcries that accompanied the state layoffs in 18 months under Governor Cayetano!

The state trimmed 2,972 or 6.7 percent from a four-times-larger base of 44,562 but still has more fat than the city. It takes a skilled manager to trim employment and improve many services through paperwork reduction and better use of personnel. Harris has done it.

Imagine, too, amassing most of the available union endorsements and working with the nine-member City Council smoothly enough that only one member, whatever their sentiments may be, is out campaigning actively against him.

Fasi's "liar" line of attack recalls 1964 when U.S. Sen. Hiram L. Fong ran for re-election with Congressman Tom Gill challenging. Early results showed Gill might win. Fong then started a series of ads accusing Gill of Lie No. 1, Lie No. 2, Lie No. 3 . . . up past a dozen. In a more polite world Gill might have been accused of misrepresentation but Fong's unexpected barrage threw Gill on the defensive and Fong won.

Fasi obviously hopes similar hammering will work for him. It could knock Morgado out of a November run-off and keep Harris from the 50 percent-plus-one vote he needs to be elected outright Sept. 21. However, Morgado has Gov. Ben Cayetano behind him, plus a few former Fasi staffers and City Councilman John Felix campaigning actively for him.

HARRIS has amassed the biggest army of supporters the old-fashioned way - by good governance and savvy politics. He has been joined by some key Fasi aides fed up with Fasi's egocentrism and volatility. Maybe in the belief that any foe of Cayetano is my ally even former Gov. John Waihee is behind Harris.

Harris is accused of buying support by putting former legislators to work to earn their "high three" pensions but he has used them pretty effectively, just as he has done most things carefully, with great attention to people and detail. Because Harris, after being elected as a nonpartisan, didn't back Fasi in the three-way 1994 race for governor, Fasi has forgotten that Harris for six years contributed mightily to his success.

A.A. Smyser is the Star-Bulletin's contributing editor.
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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