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David Shapiro
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By David Shapiro

Saturday, September 23, 2000

Hannemann’s political
timing is off

A prosecuting attorney once questioned a young bank robber who had just confessed to his crime.

"Why did you rob the bank?" the prosecutor asked.

"I wanted money to buy a van," the kid said.

The prosecutor bellowed, "If you wanted a van, why didn't you just steal a van? First-offense auto theft is a slap on the wrist in state court. Bank robbery is a long stretch in a federal pen."

Similar questions arise in trying to figure out why Mufi Hannemann is running for mayor against Jeremy Harris.

Hannemann, a long shot from the start, may see his run end tonight if Harris draws 50 percent of the primary vote to win the election outright. Even if Hannemann forces a run-off in the general election, the outcome is a formality unless political lightning strikes between now and then.

The puzzling thing is that Hannemann always had his eye on the U.S. Congress, not mayor. After two losses in congressional races, the Harvard grad and former White House fellow concluded that voters weren't going to elect him to Congress until he paid his dues at a lower level. So he ran for City Council in 1994.

I ran into Hannemann at a campaign forum that year and we talked about how both of Hawaii's current members of the U.S. House, Neil Abercrombie and Patsy Mink, were elected to Congress from the Honolulu City Council.

"That's the dream," Hannemann said.

So what happened to his dream? If his fondest hope is to be in Congress, why didn't he run for Congress? He would have had a better chance of beating Abercrombie than Harris.

My guess is that Hannemann, like Arnold Morgado before him, let Harris get under his skin when he lost the Council chairmanship after a nasty budget fight with the mayor. I'd bet his scorn got to the point that he woke up cursing Harris on his way to the commode in the morning.

Hannemann's wife Gail says she grilled Mufi on the point and was assured he wasn't running for mayor out of animosity. I suspect she got the kind of answer a husband gives when his wife asks if she's the most beautiful woman in the world. His assurance that it's so is heartfelt and certainly not a lie. But it's not the literal truth either.

Hannemann has shown little passion for municipal issues in his campaign. He mostly talks state and federal matters like public education and economic development, where the city has no primary role. The mayor's job of fixing roads, directing traffic and building soccer fields doesn't excite Mufi.

HANNEMANN is a talented politician with much to offer and we have too few of those. His problem is that the more times he loses the big one, the more he becomes damaged political goods.

If he had been patient and finished his Council term, Hannemann would have had many options in 2002. If Harris resigned to run for governor, he could have been the front-runner for mayor in a much easier race. With our aging congressional delegation, opportunities might open in Washington. He could have run for lieutenant governor and set himself up for a future run for governor.

Hannemann still has these options, but it'll be a tougher road if he takes a lopsided beating from Harris. He'll have to plot his next move carefully. It may be his last chance to find his dream again.

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

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