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David Shapiro
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By David Shapiro

Saturday, June 3, 2000

Acrimonious race
for mayor begins

THE race for mayor of Honolulu is shaping up to be long and punishing -- for voters as well as for the candidates.

Mayor Jeremy Harris and his challengers, City Councilman Mufi Hannemann and former Mayor Frank Fasi, are busy slinging personal attacks that have little to do with issues facing the city. Expect more of the same in a race driven by political ambitions and personal animosities more than differences among candidates on issues.

One bogus beef started with charges by Hannemann and Fasi that Harris doesn't intend to serve his full term if re-elected but will instead run for governor in two years.

This was a legitimate issue in 1996 but doesn't play this time. Four years ago, Harris hadn't served a single full term as mayor. He had barely begun to fulfill his mayoral campaign pledges. With no record of achievement as mayor, it would have been presumptuous of him to leave so soon to run for governor in 1998.

It's different this time. By 2002, if he's re-elected, Harris will have been mayor for eight years and will have a true record for voters to examine in judging whether they want to promote him to governor -- if he chooses to run.

If voters want to punish Harris then for not finishing his term as mayor, they're free to do so. That would be foolish, however. If we bar sitting mayors from running for governor, we'll deny ourselves the services of proven public administrators for the state's highest office and condemn ourselves to an endless string of former legislators in Washington Place.

Besides, as Harris pointed out, it's hypocritical for Hannemann or Fasi to raise the issue. Hannemann is bailing out of the final two years of his Council term to run for mayor, committing in fact the offense he accuses Harris of committing only in his mind. Fasi's hobby was running for governor while he was mayor of Honolulu.

If Harris held the high road in this dispute, he gave it up when he started questioning Hannemann's Democratic pedigree, noting that Hannemann served as a White House fellow in a Republican administration and once toyed with running for Congress as a Republican.

This is hypocrisy from Harris, who started in city politics as managing director for then-Republican Mayor Fasi. As for Fasi, he's been a Democrat, a Republican and a third-party candidate. He probably would have run for office as a Whig somewhere along the way if the party hadn't disbanded a few years before he reached voting age.

FOR any mayoral candidate to emphasize party labels is an insult to voters, who long ago decided by charter amendment that they wanted city elections to be nonpartisan.

Ironically for the attacking challengers, it probably favors the incumbent if they let the campaign stray from the issues and into personal assaults.

Voters won't give the boot to a reasonably popular mayor without compelling reason. And polls do show that most voters like Harris and think he's doing a decent job.

These voters are looking for Hannemann and Fasi to show how they could make Honolulu a better place to live, not to show how they think Harris is a dirty rat.

Nevertheless, the tone of the campaign is unlikely to change. The candidates will occasionally wave at the issues, but these three have been bitter rivals for too long.

They won't be able to refrain from frequent expressions of their intense dislike for one another.

David Shapiro is managing editor of the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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