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Colleagues recall Marshall as tough and true to beliefs


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POSTED: Monday, February 23, 2009

Barbara Marshall, an outspoken and fiercely independent Honolulu City Council member who was sometimes a critical vote on controversial issues, died yesterday morning after a battle with colon cancer.

Marshall, 64, was diagnosed with cancer last year and went to Houston for treatment. She stopped in Orange County, Calif., where she died with family members at her side, family friend Becki Ward said.

Marshall served as the leader of the nine-member City Council for two years before stepping down in November as she underwent treatment.

"She's going to be missed as a friend and a colleague," said City Council Chairman Todd Apo. "She has done a great job representing her community. She was tough on issues and well educated on them."

Said Mayor Mufi Hannemann: "I was very saddened to learn of Barbara Marshall's death. I had been monitoring her situation closely and knew that she was fighting her health challenges with her characteristic courage and determination. Barbara served the people of the islands exceptionally well during a distinguished career in journalism and as a member of the Honolulu City Council. I enjoyed our relationship, especially when she was Council chair, because she was always honest, true to her convictions and an effective representative of her Windward Oahu constituents."

Marshall, who represented Windward Oahu, was expected to return to her City Council seat. She won re-election easily last year, capturing 84 percent of the vote despite her diagnosis.

The last time Marshall was seen publicly was at the City Council inauguration ceremony Jan. 2. She was in a wheelchair and stayed for swearing-in but left before the inauguration speeches.

Marshall's vacated City Council seat will be filled by a special election within the next two months, according to the City Charter. The dynamics of the City Council will be altered dramatically depending on Marshall's replacement. The Council has been typically divided 5-4, with Marshall sometimes the swing vote.

In a newsletter to her constituents last year, she said she was battling cancer for the third time and joked, "It seems like every election cycle I have cancer!"

Four days after she was elected in 2002 to represent Windward Oahu, she was diagnosed with endometrial cancer, but the tumor was successfully removed. Then, two years later, Marshall was diagnosed again with cancer and made a successful recovery.

During her six years on the City Council, Marshall took on controversial issues and sometimes stood by unpopular opinions.

She resurrected a 20-year debate over legalizing bed-and-breakfast operations and vacation rentals that continues to bitterly divide the community, particularly in Kailua, which she represented.

Said Councilman Charles Djou: "I am saddened to hear of the loss of my colleague Barbara Marshall. While Barbara and I did not always see eye to eye on all issues, she was a good legislator who always advocated for what she believed in. I will remember Barbara as someone who came well prepared and asked tough questions, as a good journalist and good elected official should."

She was also one of the two councilmembers who voted against a proposed mass transit system because of its high cost. Though the system ended up advancing, Marshall continually asked city officials tough questions about the project.

Her aide, Ikaika Anderson, said Marshall was especially proud of introducing and passing a law to cap the amount of property taxes low-income homeowners paid.

"She was a hell of a councilmember," Anderson said. "She was a great boss and a good lady. She was always accessible and willing to listen."

An Illinois native, Marshall moved to Kailua in 1979 and worked several positions for KHON Channel 2 News, including as a reporter, producer and anchor.

"Barbara was one of the two best news producers I've ever worked with," said news anchor Joe Moore. "Barbara was intelligent, hard working, an outstanding news writer who had a great sense of what was and wasn't important in a story. Under the pressure of deadlines, she could be a bit abrupt in dealing with people and at times seemed to bark orders to our reporters and cameramen, and that's why I lovingly called her 'Sarge.'"

Marshall ended her 35-year career as a broadcast journalist on a sour note when her contract with KHON was not renewed in August 2000. In May 2001 she sued KHON, alleging that the station's male leaders had made discriminatory statements against her because of her race, gender and age.

The suit was settled out of court, and Marshall left journalism and entered the real estate business before launching her political career in 2002.

Marshall is survived by husband Cliff Ziems, son Joe Marshall and his wife, and grandson Zachary.