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Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, June 21, 2000

Ewa scandal hasn’t
hurt Harris’ bid

CURIOUSLY, the highest profile scandal facing Jeremy Harris' re-election campaign, Ewa Villages, doesn't really appear to be having much impact.

First, the circumstances surrounding the case are different from previous City Hall investigations and court cases.

Ewa Villages TrialIn this case a $39,000-a-year city housing official, Michael Kahapea, stands charged with coming up with a scheme to get moving companies to bill the city fraudulently for relocating businesses out of the Ewa Villages housing project.

The case spotlight appears to be stuck on Kahapea, a big-time gambler, who sported a $30,000 line of credit at the Stardust Hotel and Casino.

He is charged with sucking $5.6 million out of the city's relocation fund by coming up with dummy companies or over-billing for moving expenses.

The city response has been that "when we found out about it we prosecuted," says Rick Tsujimura, Harris campaign spokesman.

That process has yet to be questioned, although it appears that a portion of Kahapea's defense is that the city wasn't carefully scrutinizing the project.

Still, this is not the sizzle of scandal.

And that is bedeviling the mayoral campaign of City Councilman Mufi Hannemann, who has to steer the campaign debate around to city management.

Hannemann has stressed his local upbringing in television commercials, countered by former Farrington High School football coach "Skippa" Diaz's endorsement of Harris.

He also hoped to emphasize the possibility that Harris might leave City Hall after two years, if re-elected, to run for governor, an issue that appeared to deflate as others pointed out that Hannemann was leaving the Council two years early to run for mayor.

Interesting, even Harris supporters wonder when some bigger issues are going to surface. So Ewa Villages remains lurking just below the surface.

So far Harris has escaped a full-scale Council investigation, which would have been much more political, but because of the police investigation, it was impossible to continue.

So Harris is left with a scandal, the political charge that "it happened on your watch," but appears to be far away from any linked activity.

A second tantalizing city scandal, the allegations of golf course starters taking bribes, which resulted in the arrest of city employees, adds more smoke.

IN this issue, Harris can easily claim credit for pushing the eight-month investigation, saying that he again acted as soon as he learned of the allegations.

Of course, suspicions about starting times at the Ala Wai Golf Course have been banging through City Hall since Jeremy Harris was a Kauai councilman, but this is the first time that arrests have been made.

Still absent from the debate is any discussion of how good the Harris administration has been in keeping the city on the straight, narrow and efficient. The Council, which Hannemann formerly chaired, has yet to really get into a serious exploration of the issue.

Some of the issues that could be discussed include how often the city books are monitored and audited by outside parties, how much time is spent preparing city workers to report improper behavior and how much time is spent installing a climate of honesty in government.

So far, that debate hasn't been opened either by the City Council or the candidates for mayor. It is worth examining.

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

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