Sunday, August 5, 2001


From Saint to Sinner

Andy Mirikitani's rise and
eventual fall as a public servant
paints an enigmatic portrait
of his contradicting

Highlights of Mirikitani's career

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

In the summer of 1993, a top-level administrator ordered city appointees to contribute to then-Mayor Frank Fasi's campaign fund.

Reacting quickly, City Councilman Andy Mirikitani introduced a bill prohibiting city officials from using coercion, threats, promotions or other means to obtain campaign contributions or assistance.

By the end of the year, the bill became law, even surviving a veto attempt by Fasi.

Community watchdog group Common Cause Hawaii gave Mirikitani its distinguished public service award in 1994, citing his clean government initiatives.

But seven years later, the 45-year-old Mirikitani finds himself awaiting sentencing after being found guilty by a jury of extorting kickbacks from two of his employees.

Common Cause spokesman Larry Meacham was struck by the parallel. "The law was a good response to the abuse (involving the administration)," Meacham said. "Obviously, it was very ironic in view of what's happened."

You won't find a politician with more contradictions than Mirikitani.

He authored the city's sexual harassment policies and fought to stiffen domestic violence laws but was known to verbally dress down his aides. He was repulsed by colleagues who received large contributions from special interests yet has failed to repay a six-figure debt to his family.

"Andy is Andy," said Tom Heinrich, chairman of the Manoa Neighborhood Board. "He is a real enigma in just so many ways."

Mirikitani had his good side and his bad side, according to Hank Raymond, an aide from 1996 to 1999.

Mirikitani first entered the public spotlight as president of Save Our Beach Citizens Association in 1986. The group fought 20 Diamond Head homeowners over a strip of a former road along Kaalawai Beach. Among the property owners were Outrigger Hotels chief Richard Kelley and then-Hawaiian Airlines President John Magoon.

While the owners sought to purchase the right-of-way from the state, the group contended the state had no right to sell public beach land.

In his first attempt at elected office in 1988, Mirikitani lost to GOP veteran John Henry Felix for the East Honolulu Council seat vacated by Dennis O'Connor when he resigned to run for mayor. Mirikitani had 6,765 votes to Felix's 10,625.

TWO YEARS LATER, Mirikitani had moved to Makiki and contended for the Manoa-to-Waikiki Council seat, left vacant when Neil Abercrombie ran for Congress.

Mirikitani bested two Democratic challengers in the primary and then trounced Republican Warner "Kimo" Sutton 17,538 votes to 7,319 in the general.

During the election, opponents criticized him for exceeding the voluntary campaign spending limit of $82,000. Friends of Andy Mirikitani spent $251,000.48 in winning the election, according to a campaign spending report.

Mirikitani responded to the criticism by stating that he never agreed to the voluntary limit, a point backed by the Campaign Spending Commission's then-executive director Jack Gonzales.

The campaign spending report listed $255,141.52 from "the Andy Mirikitani family" and an additional $12,460.76 from brother Richard Mirikitani.

Mirikitani's early years were marked by a steady stream of bills and resolutions, some of them aimed at dampening the influence of developers.

Mirikitani authored two other ethics-related measures:

» One measure required city officials to disclose gifts of $200 or more that they or their families receive. Critics said the bill went too far.

» The other bill barred the city's elected officials from accepting campaign contributions from lobbyists and others doing business with the city.

That bill was challenged in 1996 by mayoral candidate Arnold Morgado, who hired noted civil rights attorney Dan Foley to argue its constitutionality. It was struck down by state Circuit Judge Kevin Chang two years later.

Councilman Steve Holmes, with whom Mirikitani has not spoken in nearly six years, recalled a story about the ethics bill.

Holmes said Council colleagues opposed to the measure were being assured by Mirikitani not to worry about it because city attorneys had already told him the measure would not stand a legal challenge.

HOLMES SAID that left him with the impression that Mirikitani was not serious about enacting real legislation, but simply out for glory.

"I mean, why did we go through all of the motions on that?" Holmes said. "It's one thing when you're a true reformer out seeking support, and another when you're out just doing it for the glory where you don't really care anymore if it passes or not."

Mirikitani's do-gooder image grated colleagues, including then-Chairman John DeSoto, who felt it was hypocritical for him to tout ethics when his live-in girlfriend's son, Wayne Weightman, was on his payroll as an aide.

DeSoto and others on the Council pushed through a bill barring the hire of family members of domestic partners and Weightman was let go.

It was only one of a series of skirmishes between DeSoto and Mirikitani in 1995-96. At another point, DeSoto's aide claimed to be verbally harassed by an irrationally behaving Mirikitani in her office.

DeSoto declined to be interviewed for this story, although he made it clear after Mirikitani's verdict that he had no sympathy for his colleague. Mirikitani also declined an interview.

Others also had clashes with Mirikitani:

» Mirikitani and Felix got into a snit over whose staff would occupy the tower office space of Honolulu Hale.

» Mirikitani stopped speaking to Holmes after Mirikitani was left out of a new majority that had been formed with Holmes' help. Holmes said he broke with Mirikitani in part because of the verbal abuse he received while trying to work with him.

» In late 1998, two Mirikitani aides were fired. Both filed complaints with the city equal employment officer, claiming sexual and racial harassment. The complaints were never substantiated, but an equal employment office report said Mirikitani's "adherence to sexual harassment policies could best be characterized as reckless."

Later, one of the two men would testify that Mirikitani gave him a bonus in exchange for a kickback. Mirikitani would claim the accusations as the active imagination of disgruntled former employees.

Judy Weightman, Mirikitani's longtime girlfriend, died in March 1998 after a long fight with cancer.

By all accounts, her illness and death had a profound impact on Mirikitani.

"It was remarkable how he stood by her through that whole ordeal," said ex-aide Hank Raymond. "He was really devoted as a companion to her."

UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII law professor Weightman had been with fellow lawyer Mirikitani at the beginning of his political career. She is credited with helping shape his views on gender equity, women and children's rights and other issues.

"The fact that she died left him confused and left him without a rudder," Raymond said, adding that the staff often lacked direction during the time.

"When she passed away, Andy lost whatever moral anchor he had because, as much as she was not akamai about politics, she was deeply grounded on certain issues," said Heinrich of the Manoa board.

Attorney Andrew Beaman also knew Weightman and Mirikitani well.

"I think one the things that really affected his life was when Judy Weightman died," Beaman said. "He was depressed, he looked like he really suffered a blow."

A loner at heart, he became increasingly withdrawn and paranoid of the people around him, Raymond said.

Mirikitani would stay in his office, arriving late for his own news conferences or keeping colleagues waiting at Council chambers.

John Kato, longtime member of the McCully-Moiliili Neighborhood Board, said: "In a lot of ways, he represented the people who had no voice, but in many ways, he was not because he couldn't connect with the man on the street."

Raymond said shyness and pride contributed to his downfall.

MIRIKITANI'S CAMPAIGN treasurer for a time, Raymond said the campaign committee always had financial difficulties because the candidate refused to actively seek either contributions or volunteers.

"He always said it was best to be free of any sort of special interests; he really prided himself on that," Raymond said.

"The fund-raisers were sparsely attended," Kato said. "I suspect he only broke even on those things. He wasn't the kind of guy contractors that do business with the city would go look up."

In 1998, even facing a tough re-election bid against former NFL star Russ Francis, Mirikitani refused to hold fund-raisers until the very end of the election season.

Kato said he would have worked on Mirikitani's election campaigns "but he never asked."

As the 1998 election unfolded, observers began to notice that Mirikitani had a new companion who, like Judy Weightman, was an older female.

Several people close to Mirikitani compared Weightman with the new girlfriend Sharron Bynum: Weightman was water to the fire in Mirikitani; Bynum was like oil.

( Bynum, 52, was found guilty at the same trial as Mirikitani of theft and extortion but acquitted of bribery.)

Francis forced a runoff after Mirikitani failed to fully campaign in the first special election of 1998. Mirikitani rallied his staff and a small group of other supporters to squeeze out a victory in the November runoff.

But it was hard for Mirikitani to savor the victory because his father, Carl, died between the two elections and Weightman died the previous March.

The death of Carl Mirikitani, Raymond said, ignited a feud between Andy Mirikitani and younger brother Richard, also an attorney.

A MAJOR POINT of contention was Andy Mirikitani's use of the family fortune, including the $200,000-plus loan that had not been paid back. Raymond said the two brothers kept their differences low-key while the father was alive.

But after their father's death, Richard and Andy filed a series of lawsuits.

Richard Mirikitani said Andy was responsible for recklessly depleting the family's fortune and trying to disinherit their nephew, Carl Kunio "Chip" Mirikitani Jr.

Chip is the son of the late Carl Kunio Mirikitani Sr., Richard and Andy's brother.

Richard and Chip Mirikitani won a partial victory removing Andy as sole trustee of Chip's estate.

Andy Mirikitani said he was disinherited after Richard tricked their father into changing his will.

He has also sought unsuccessfully to stop Richard and his wife, Susan, from establishing a wedding chapel at the historic Bayer Estate, claiming that as one-third owner, he had not been consulted.

By the summer of 1999, federal prosecutors said, Mirikitani had more than $100,000 in attorney's fees in addition to maxed-out credit card debts.

It was that summer, prosecutors said, that Mirikitani approached staffers Cindy McMillan and Jonn Serikawa and offered them bonuses in exchange for kickbacks.

The scheme netted him $6,884.

"He's not a bad person," Raymond said. "He just got desperate."

Highlights of Andy Mirikitani's political career

» September 1988: Kahala resident Andrew Kotaro Mirikitani, 32, finishes a strong second to John Henry Felix for the City Council's East Honolulu seat.

» May 1989: Mirikitani, president of Save Our Beach, urges the state to enforce beach access laws against landowners of beach-front property in the Diamond Head area.

» November 1990: Mirikitani defeats Warner "Kimo" Sutton 17,538 to 7,319 in the Council Manoa-to-Waikiki seat. Mirikitani spent $243,000 in winning, the most of any Council candidate that year.

» January 1991: A campaign spending report shows $301,000 in revenues, but some $255,000 of it in loans from himself and his family.

» April 1991: Mirikitani and Council Chairman Arnold Morgado push through a temporary ban on construction in Waikiki.

» June 1992: Mirikitani's bill requiring new public facilities to have twice the number of toilets for women than for men is enacted.

» July 1992: A measure introduced by Mirikitani requiring smoke alarms in high-rise condominiums is signed by Mayor Fasi.

» April 1993: The Council approves a bill introduced by Mirikitani that creates bus voucher programs for Oahu employers and their employees.

» November 1993: The Council approves a tough new sexual harassment policy authored by Mirikitani that allows people to file informal complaints and requires companies who do business with the city to have their own sexual harassment policies.

» September 1994: Mirikitani gets by challenger Earl Tanaka by a 11,534-to-8,109 vote under the city's new, nonpartisan special election format.

» December 1994: Mirikitani, part of a new majority headed by John DeSoto, demands that his staff get the tower office space at Honolulu Hale that has been used by the staff of John Henry Felix for five years. Felix balks but later agrees to the move.

» February 1995: A Council reorganization leaves Mirikitani out of the majority but his staff is allowed to stay in the tower office.

» May 1995: Mirikitani is criticized for hiring the son of Judy Weightman, his then live-in girlfriend, as a part-time aide for $40,000 a year.

» September 1995: News surfaces that Mirikitani's campaign continues to owe his family more than $240,000 in loans. He promises to repay the loan.

» October 1995: Mirikitani and then-Council Chairman John DeSoto exchange heated words on Punchbowl Street just outside Honolulu Hale.

» December 1995: Mirikitani introduces legislation requiring lobbyists to file quarterly reports, rather than annually, and to report contributions to elected officials. The measure is never approved.

» April 1996: Colleen Sakai, an aide to then-Council Chairman DeSoto files a police report claiming Mirikitani harassed her verbally. DeSoto attempts unsuccessfully to isolate Mirikitani in the tower. After the two parties agree to mediation, Mirikitani ends up moving from his Council office to another one that is farther away from Sakai's desk.

» October 1996: Mirikitani introduces a bill requiring anyone convicted of felony sex, drug, violent or white-collar crime to register with Honolulu police. The bill is stalled in committee.

» March 1998: Judy Weightman, Mirikitani's live-in girlfriend for more than a decade, dies of cancer.

» April 1998: Mirikitani files a complaint with the Ethics Commission against the city Liquor Commission and Administrator Wallace Weatherwax over alleged ethical breaches. The previous week, Weatherwax and the commission accused Mirikitani of "unethical, unprofessional and inappropriate behavior."

» May 1998: A bill introduced by Mirikitani prohibiting contact between employees of lap-dancing establishments and their customers is approved by the Council.

» September 1998: Mirikitani leads a community protest against a McCully Street sex shop called Inserection. The following February, the store closes after landowner 7-Eleven begins eviction proceedings.

» August 1998: After five years of trying to get the City Council to bar strip clubs from being within 500 feet of each other, Mirikitani gets the Liquor Commission to approve similar rules.

» November 1998: Mirikitani defeats ex-pro football player Russ Francis in a second special election with 12,352 votes to 11,596.

» January 2000: Two fired employees file racial and sexual discrimination complaints against Mirikitani. The charges are not sustained but a city equal employment office report states that Mirikitani's "adherence to sexual harassment policies could best be characterized as reckless."

» March 2000: Mirikitani introduces a bill barring the sale or rental of violent video games to minors. The bill does not go to a final vote.

Compiled by Gordon Y.K. Pang, Star-Bulletin

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