Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, October 23, 1996

Leadership needed in
mayoral election

IT is that old vision thing. If you feel a little uneasy about this year's race for mayor, start with the candidates, not the issues. These guys, incumbent Jeremy Harris and challenger Arnold Morgado, know issues.

You want numbers? These two will fight over numbers for hours.

Facts? Toss out a fact and this pair will go after it like two dogs and one bone.

But, after listening to Harris and Morgado for the past month, it is obvious that these two haven't been living in the same Honolulu for the past two years.

Number of cops on the beat, size of the Honolulu Police Department, budget for the police. All those are numbers, which as you learned in math class are exact points, but which you discovered in debate class are just starting points for questions.

If both Harris and Morgado were to fail in politics, they would be a great team for one of those "Tastes great; less filling," beer commercials.

The Middle Ages debate on how many angels can dance on the head of a pin pales in comparison to the Harris-Morgado conflagration over mass transit ridership figures.

Few voters, however, clasp Honolulu bus rider figures to their breasts as a do-or-die issue. It is rare to find a family that would even know the size of the Honolulu Police Department, let alone care about its two-year percentage change.

The same goes for the number of hotel rooms on Waikiki, the original cost estimates for public charges to Hanauma Bay or past estimates for budget shortfalls.

The purpose of the numbers is to assuage the public that the candidate is on top of the issue. For instance, if you know the number of cops on the beat, you probably care about crime and that is important.

Well, Morgado and Harris have shown they know the facts and they know which facts go with which issue.

But, issues alone don't make a mayor worthy.

If we were running a business and looking to hire a new department head, we would pay attention to the numbers. If we were running in the red we would look for a tough-guy kind of manager. If we had a surplus, we might want someone more expansive.

Although the city and county has few real responsibilities compared to mainland municipalities, or Hawaii's megalithic state government, the mayor does more than line up the budget figures.

There is very real leadership role to be played by big-city mayors.

When he was at the top of his game, Frank Fasi could deliver the leadership Honolulu needed.

IT is the mayor who makes Honolulu either powerful or weak, it is the mayor who strives to bring culture to Honolulu, it is the mayor who cares about our place among other cities, who knows the people and is a symbol for it all.

The mayor does more than know about the sewers. The mayor has a heart that beats faster about things other than "budget reform proposals."

Mayor's have to be tough guys at the budget table, but care enough to make sure the symphony is playing.

If all we are going to get out of this race is someone to cluck over the balance sheet and chase after the garbage men, we might as just well go the classified ads and hire a managing director.

But if we want a mayor it is time to start sharpening the questions and demand leadership.

Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics every Wednesday.
He can be reached by e-mail at

©Copyright 1996, Honolulu Star-Bulletin. All rights reserved.

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