Entrepreneur often showed savvy


POSTED: Saturday, February 06, 2010

Cecil Heftel, one of Hawaii's nimblest and most successful businessmen and visionary politicians, died Thursday in San Diego.

While Heftel is remembered for his dramatic loss in the 1986 Democratic primary election for governor, he also was known for his prowess in building radio and television broadcasting, with news anchor Bob Sevey, “;Checkers and Pogo,”; Hal Lewis, better known as J. Akuhead Pupule, and Perry and Price.

“;He was a fabulous, unbelievable, free-thinking entrepreneur. He was one of a kind,”; Earl McDaniel, former general manager for Heftel's Honolulu radio and TV stations, said.

Heftel, 85, represented Hawaii's urban Honolulu 1st Congressional District from 1976 to 1986, when he resigned to run unsuccessfully for governor in the Democratic primary. The race was marred by a last-minute smear campaign that supporters and family members still recall as a painful memory.

“;There was a lot of pain and anguish for all of us. It was a difficult race,”; recalls political veteran John Farias, Heftel's campaign chairman.

Heftel's son Richard, who now manages investments and a business in Spokane, Wash., called the race for governor a “;very down-and-dirty experience.”;

“;It was unfortunate how it played out ... after he refocused his energies in broadcasting and built a broadcasting empire,”; Heftel said.

As a father, Richard remembered Heftel as a night owl who would wake him when he came home from work and take him at midnight to buy the Honolulu Advertiser when it came off the press. “;He would read it and we would go shoot pool, and then he would take me home and tuck me back to bed,”; Heftel said.

In Congress Heftel served on the House Ways and Means Committee and maintained a relentless pace, according to his staff.

“;He was a demanding boss and a visionary. Cec was on top of every situation. I learned so much working for him, so much about legislation and about politics,”; said Laura Figueira, former district director of Heftel's Honolulu congressional office.

After his loss to former Gov. John Waihee in the 1986 primary, Heftel left Hawaii but returned to run successfully for the state school board in 2004. He declined to run for a second term in 2008.

Doug Carlson, who first worked for Heftel's television station KGMB and then as a spokesman for his congressional office, described him as “;a broadcasting genius and a legislative visionary.”;

Heftel sold radio stations KSSK-AM 590/FM 92.3 in 1990 to Bedford Broadcasting, a subsidiary of a real estate company.

Heftel was credited with seeing an opportunity to serve the burgeoning Hispanic population in the U.S. and bought Spanish-language FM stations in Los Angeles. The company known as Heftel Broadcasting later became known as Hispanic Broadcasting Co.

After Hal Lewis died in 1983, radio station KGMB teamed up Michael W. Perry and Larry Price to succeed Hawaii's No. 1 radio personality; helping to ensure the team's success, the station staged a $1 million giveaway.

;[Preview]    Former congressman Cec Heftel dies at 85

Watch ]


The idea was “;Mr. Heftel's,”; McDaniel said.

“;From Cec the top quote that I will always remember is, 'We call it show business for a reason — it's a show and it's a business,' and he understood both,”; said Perry.

Jack Kellner, a former KGMB-TV reporter and assistant to the president, called Heftel unique. “;He was a terrific competitor as a broadcaster and an extremely canny businessman. He built KGMB into a leader in Hawaii television by having the foresight to bring talented people to the station,”; Kellner said.

U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie recalls that in 1986 he won the special election to fill the vacancy created by Heftel's resignation to run for Congress.

“;My wife, Nancie, and I had to move to Washington, D.C., without much money and no place to live. Cec called, offered his apartment and literally put a roof over our heads. ... He was gracious, friendly and couldn't have been more accommodating,”; Abercrom-bie said.

Private funeral arrangements are pending.

Heftel is survived by wife Rebecca, who was at his side when he died; seven children from his first wife, Joyce, who died in July 2003 — sons Chris, Terry and Richard and daughters Catharine Rolph, Lani Donohoe, Margeaux “;Peggy”; Siemion and Susan Heftel-Liquido — 23 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.