KEKOA KAAPU / 1937-2003

Kekoa Kaapu, shown here at Sunset Grill in March 2002, initiated a recall petition drive to oust City Councilman Andy Mirikitani in 2001 after Mirikitani was convicted of receiving kickbacks.

Isle politician had long
history of public service

Former Democratic City Councilman Kekoa Kaapu Jr., one of Hawaii's most colorful politicians who grew up in a grass house his father built in Punaluu, died Wednesday night at his apartment in Moiliili.

He was 66.

Kaapu entered politics after serving in the Marine Corps as a naval aviator and intelligence officer. He was an administrative assistant to Hawaii's second elected governor, Democrat John A. Burns, in 1962. Kaapu had run unsuccessfully for the state House when Burns took an interest in his career.

He also served as president of the Young Democrats from 1963 to 1965.

In 1964, Kaapu won election to the Honolulu City Council, representing Windward Oahu until 1969 and, at 27, was considered the youngest person to win that seat. During his tenure, he wrote the bill that established the city's current bus system.

Kaapu also was a delegate to the state Constitutional Convention in 1968 and 1978.

From 1969 to 1971, Kaapu served as urban renewal coordinator and deputy managing director for then-Mayor Frank Fasi and regained a seat on the City Council in 1974. He served as the Council's finance chairman until 1979.

Since then, Kaapu has unsuccessfully sought other political offices, including running in the special election to find a successor to U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink, who died before last November's general election.

In July, Kaapu was installed as a member of the McCully-Moiliili Neighborhood Board.

Ron Lockwood, board chairman, described Kaapu yesterday as one of the area's "most colorful characters."

"The ladies of Moiliili will miss him, since every morning he would walk through the area passing out flowers," Lockwood said.

It would be easy to spot Kaapu wearing a red T-shirt from Harvard University, his alma mater, and board shorts, sporting a plumeria behind his ear as he made his daily trek through the McCully-University area where he lived for the past quarter of a century.

Kaapu received his undergraduate degree from Harvard, studying on a Navy ROTC scholarship, after graduating from Kamehameha Schools in 1954.

Lockwood said Kaapu considered himself as the father of Hawaii's leasehold conversion law, which he wrote about consistently as editor of "The Hawaii Public Interest Advocate." Kaapu argued that Hawaii lacked uniform standards, which resulted in inflated land values and terrible consequences for Hawaii leaseholders.

"He liked the real hands-on, working with people, dealing immediately with their problems," said Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi. "He was a very caring person. He loved Hawaii. He always made sure that things went well here and he always wanted this to be a good place to live."

Kaapu was a member of various citizens groups, including the committee formed to save the Honolulu Star-Bulletin four years ago, the Honolulu Community Action program, the Liliuokalani Trust, the Hawaii Jaycees, the Harvard Club of Hawaii and the Exchange Club.

At one point, Kaapu wanted the city to use its powers of eminent domain to force Liberty Newspapers LP, the Star-Bulletin's former owner, to hand over the Star-Bulletin to the city for just compensation. Money would be provided through tax-exempt, long-term bonds by designating the Star-Bulletin as "an urban renewal project," Kaapu said in 1999 when he made the suggestion. The city would then, in turn, sell the newspaper to a Kaapu-initiated organization called Public Interest Policy and Economic Research Institute Inc., or some other nonprofit entity, that would then run the paper.

In 2001, Kaapu initiated a recall petition drive to oust City Councilman Andy Mirikitani after the councilman was convicted by a federal jury of receiving kickbacks from aides who received bonuses.

There was no word yesterday on services.

Star-Bulletin reporter Crystal Kua contributed to this report.


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