Wednesday, February 13, 2002

City & County of Honolulu

DeSoto leading
Council overhaul

His reorganization with a new
majority would see Yoshimura
replaced as chairman

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

Honolulu City Council Chairman Jon Yoshimura is on the brink of being ousted by a new majority leadership headed by Councilman John DeSoto, according to several sources.

Yoshimura's undoing is apparently being caused by three things: disenchantment by some colleagues that Council leadership has been slow to bring up issues unfavorable to Mayor Jeremy Harris; a Disciplinary Board's action against Yoshimura; and a need to find a leadership role for Councilwoman-elect Ann Kobayashi.

Barring challenges to her election, Kobayashi will be sworn in on Monday.

Councilman Gary Okino, meanwhile, has apparently stepped away from his attempt to offer himself as a "compromise" candidate for chairman.

DeSoto, who is vice chairman, declined to discuss the details of any reorganization yesterday, but said there is a need to improve the Council's checks-and-balance role to the mayor.

"I'm not here to be the rubber stamp. I'm here to work with the administration so that we can achieve the goals of what our constituents elected us to do," he said.

DeSoto noted, for instance, the Budget Committee's reluctance to hear a bill intended to help rural property owners with their sewer bills.

Councilman John Henry Felix said, "It's far wiser for us to proceed with a new chairman as soon as possible."

Like DeSoto, Felix said he dislikes that certain Council members "have been less than diligent in challenging the administration on some critical issues," such as cost overruns of city projects and other fiscal policies.

DeSoto and Felix also raised concerns about the public's perception of the Council following recent news of Yoshimura's problems with the Disciplinary Board. Last week, the panel recommended to the Hawaii Supreme Court that Yoshimura's law license be suspended for six months because he lied to the public following a 1999 hit-and-run accident.

According to City Hall sources, a DeSoto-led Council could have Kobayashi taking over the Budget Committee from Steve Holmes, Felix in charge of the Policy Committee, and Romy Cachola heading the Zoning Committee.

Yoshimura said his future as chairman is in the hands of his colleagues.

"I enjoy being chair. I think I've done a good job as chair," he said. "Recently, I've had some personal problems, but I think people need to separate the personal from the professional."

He said he has told colleagues that he intends to step down as chairman on June 30 so that he can focus on campaigning for lieutenant governor. The argument that his leadership has been soft on the mayor is specious, he said.

Yoshimura became chairman in May 1999, replacing then-Councilman Mufi Hannemann. Hannemann, in the spring of 1998, ousted DeSoto, who had been chairman since late 1994.

Like Yoshimura, DeSoto is also considering a run for the lieutenant governor's seat this fall.

City & County of Honolulu

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