Tuesday, September 14, 1999

100 Who Made A Difference

Star Frank F. Fasi Star

Star-Bulletin file photo
In June 1985, Mayor Frank Fasi, third from left, watched Councilmen
Toraki Matsumoto, George Akahane and Rudy Pacarro become
Republicans. Behind them is Fasi aide Jeremy Harris, now mayor.

No politics as usual with Fasi

By Richard Borreca


JAMES Michener -- the famous author and chronicler of Hawaii -- used to recall that whenever he was visiting, he would jump into a cab and ask the driver: "What's Frank Fasi up to?"

The answer would always launch a heated discussion, because since arriving in Hawaii during World War II as a young Marine, Frank Francis Fasi has been a prime source of political controversy.

He also has been one of the most pivotal public leaders of Hawaii, guiding the City and County of Honolulu as mayor for six terms in the period from 1968 to 1994.

"Most island people have a neighborhood viewpoint, but Frank Fasi truly understood what a city is about, he understands making it livable," said David Hagino, a political observer and former state representative.

"I can't say he was always right. But he knows what urban living is all about, and that a city is a crossroads of different ethnic groups."

As a municipal leader, Fasi pressed for better mass transit and championed the Honolulu bus system. When others wanted to devote money to increasing the density of Waikiki, Fasi directed that city funds be used to build the downtown urban core.

Fasi, who after World War II made his fortune here buying and selling surplus material and as a general contractor, was one of the early supporters of Hawaii's fledgling Democratic Party. But he never enjoyed good relations with party regulars loyal to former Gov. John A. Burns.

In 1984, Fasi left the Democrats and became a Republican -- a move which enabled him to return to City Hall, after a defeat. His politics were more populist than supportive of either the GOP or Democratic platforms.

"Part of his impact was to be much more proactive than other government leaders," said Jim Loomis, an advertising and public relations executive who served under Fasi. "If he saw problems, he would actively go out and try to solve them."

Fasi was at City Hall so long and was so active, that many of the parts of municipal life that people take for granted -- such as senior citizen bus fares, open markets, satellite city halls and the parklike municipal center -- were all parts of Fasi's legacy, Loomis said.

"You would be hard-pressed to name another individual who has left a greater mark," he said.

Fasi's sometimes-controversial and antagonistic positions brought him supporters who were frustrated with the political status quo. Bob Dye, a historian and former Fasi Cabinet member, said Fasi is a political populist who offered a home to many disenchanted voters.

"He was the first politician to take gender equity and ethnic representation seriously. He brought a lot more people into the political system than other people," Dye said. "His voter base reflected that."

Fasi also was known for his furious and hard-fought political campaigns. He unsuccessfully ran five times for governor, raising and spending millions. And he was one of the first local politicians to effectively employ radio, then television, commercials.

Born Aug. 27, 1920, in East Hartford, Conn., Fasi's elected offices here also included Democratic National Committee person from 1952-56, the Territorial Senate in 1958-59, the Honolulu City Council from 1965-68, and Constitutional Convention delegate in 1968. He is married to Joyce Kono Fasi, and has 11 children.

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