Mink’s illness
prompts opponents
to pull ad punches

By Crystal Kua

State Rep. Bob McDermott -- the Republican candidate for the 2nd Congressional District -- had originally scheduled to run radio advertisements chiding incumbent Rep. Patsy Mink, using snippets from a recent fired-up speech of hers.

Election 2002

But then Mink, 74, became seriously ill, still in the intensive care unit of Straub Hospital being treated for pneumonia brought on by chickenpox.

"I was going to run (the ads) on Monday, and then I said, 'Oh boy, I better not. I might get crucified.'" Kinder, gentler political spots will run beginning today. "We just cut another ad which is a lot softer and wishes her well, actually," said McDermott, who hopes to meet Mink in the general election.

Steve Tataii, slated to face Mink in the Sept. 21 Democratic primary, is taking the same approach by removing a speech from the "Candidate in Focus" program on 'Olelo Community Television. "I actually don't feel like campaigning against my good friend and opponent while she's in the hospital, because she cannot respond to my speeches," Tataii said.

While both candidates acknowledge that they were long shots to unseat Mink before she got sick, her illness has left both between the proverbial rock and a hard place -- damned if they launch an aggressive campaign against her now, and damned if they pull back from challenging her on the issues.

"We would not want to disturb the family, disturb the recovery, but, yes indeed, it would probably not work for me if the situation remains unknown until the primary," Tataii said.

Yet there are few answers from Mink's camp, state elections officials and others on what the political fallout would be if Mink's condition continues to remain serious, especially with the primary election just nine days away.

Joan Manke, Mink's spokeswoman, has been unable to say much about her condition other than she is being treated for a viral infection that needs to run its course. Asked if Mink is getting better, she replied: "I don't know. That's why I'm saying she's the same. I don't know the details of any other condition."

The lack of information has fueled speculation on the seriousness of her illness and what it could mean if she does not get better soon. Rumors have surfaced regarding whether she is able to speak, whether she is conscious.

"I know that those questions continue, but I don't have any answers to those questions," Manke said.

"As far as the other details, whether conscious or not, I really don't have any information, and I'd like to just respect the privacy of the family as far as any of those other details."

Manke said that Mink's campaign is going ahead as if she were back in Washington. But questions remain on what happens if Mink is unable to continue with her campaign.

"It's really fuzzy," McDermott said. "My campaign manager read the statute, and he has a different interpretation than I do." Elections officials do not have answers, either.

"We're seeking clarification from the (attorney general's) office because we're unclear about the various permutations," said Rex Quidilla, Office of Elections spokesman. Because there is no vacancy now, "the urgency to get this clarification is not pressing for us."

The question depends on if and when a vacancy should occur, before the primary or after the general election, Quidilla said.

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