Friday, July 6, 2001

Mirikitani should
resign from Council

The issue: City Councilman Andy
Mirikitani has been convicted by a
federal jury of corruption but
has not resigned from his office.

ANDY Mirikitani's conviction by a federal jury on numerous charges of corruption should result in his prompt and voluntary departure from the City Council. Council members have expressed their discomfort with his continued presence and Mirikitani's constituents should not be deprived of full and effective representation.

Felony conviction of an elected official is believed to be unprecedented in Hawaii, so a state law requiring removal from office under those circumstances has been untested. It states in fairly clear terms that removal should occur at the time of sentencing, which has been set for Dec. 4. A special election to fill his seat would follow.

However, sentence proceedings often are postponed, so that scheduled date is tentative. Any legal challenge of his removal from office prior to resolution of an appeal of his conviction could allow him to cling to office even longer. Mirikitani's term as city councilman expires in January 2003.

Since his election to the City Council more than a decade ago, Mirikitani has earned popularity among many citizens for his work on issues such as the environment, campaign reform, sexual discrimination, pornography and, ironically, ethics. His criminal conviction now renders him ineffective as a public official.

Council members are considering options in case Mirikitani refuses to go quietly. These are said to include an attempt to move for expedited sentencing, which would be both unfair and futile, and a rule change aimed at removing Mirikitani from the decision-making process, which would only exacerbate the disenfranchisement of his constituents.

Councilman Duke Bainum said after the verdict was announced on Tuesday that Mirikitani should step down to do "what's best for his constituents." Bainum said he was especially concerned that Mirikitani would be able to focus on his duties while "facing the type of penalties that Mr. Mirikitani is facing."

Bainum's concern may have been heightened by misleading information distributed by the U.S. Attorney's Office that Mirikitani faces up to 65 years in prison. That would be the case if the sentence for each of the six counts on which he was convicted were to be imposed back-to-back according to maximum statutory penalties that effectively were shelved 14 years ago.

A review of current guidelines set by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which federal judges are required to follow, indicates Mirikitani faces a prison term more like 18 months to two years, in the absence of aggravating or mitigating factors. We are aware of no such factors.

Prison time of that length definitely is in order. Mirikitani got caught extorting kickbacks from two aides after awarding them bonuses and took illegal measures to hide the transactions. Other public officials should be advised in the strongest terms possible that such abuse of the public trust will not be tolerated or dealt with lightly.

Bush should stay home
until Americans released

The issue: President Bush has
sought to smooth over bumpy Sino-U.S.
relations even as Beijing has put
an American citizen on trial.

After a rocky start in U.S. relations with China, President Bush has begun rebuilding contacts with Chinese leaders, and should be commended for that. However, he is going about it the wrong way and should revise his tactics.

The president had hardly taken office when a Chinese fighter pilot sideswiped an American intelligence plane over international waters in the South China Sea. The Chinese pilot crashed while the Americans made an emergency landing in China and were detained for two weeks. After much bickering, China permitted the United States to ship the plane home, where it arrived yesterday.

Not so coincidentally, President Bush called President Jiang Zemin yesterday to resume what White House spokesman Sean McCormack called a dialogue. "The return of the airplane allows the two sides to focus on the bilateral relationship," he said.

McCormack further told the Cox News Service: "The president said he looked forward to going to China in October," when he plans to attend an economic meeting in Shanghai.

There's where the president and his advisers suffered a lapse in judgment. The State Department also disclosed yesterday that the Chinese have begun trials for an American citizen and a U.S. permanent resident on charges of spying. Both are of Chinese descent and are among about 30 holders of U.S. passports who have been detained in the past year. The citizen is Li Shaomin, who teaches in Hong Kong, and the resident is Gao Zhan, a professor at American University in Washington.

In protesting the trials, the president and the State Department have been right to stay low key in public. In private, every administration official from the president on down should make clear to the Chinese that there will be no presidential visit until all Americans have been released.

President Bush has leverage in this instance and should apply it judiciously. Jiang Zemin wants to be seen at home and abroad as the equal of his predecessors, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. A visit from an American president would enhance Jiang's prestige while declining the invitation would surely hurt his standing.

Secretary of State Colin Powell plans to travel to China later this month. He should make clear, even if out of the public eye, that American concern for human rights and civil rights extends to the most obscure citizen and legal resident -- including those who belong to minorities.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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