Sunday, February 11, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, February 11, 2001

Mainland sees Harris as Isles' Mr. Democrat

By Bob Dye

Guess who went to Al Gore's election night party?

Not Gov. Ben Cayetano, titular head of the Hawaii Democratic Party. Nor Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, who headed Gore's Hawaii campaign. It was Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris and wife Ramona, who got an invitation from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to party in Nashville. But it was no celebration.

The mayor watched the returns with Cabinet members and senators in a VIP room at the posh Cumberland Club. He says the experience was emotional as the results bounced back and forth, the night ending without resolution. The trip was short: "One long wet night," the mayor recalls.

Why were Jeremy and Ramona invited? With the mayor’s non-partisan election already decided in his favor in September, Harris went to work for the national Democratic ticket. In Hawaii, he raised what's called "soft money" for the Democratic National Committee. Soft money is described loosely as that which is not regulated by anyone.

Jeremy and Ramona traveled to Washington, D.C., in October. They were accompanied by two campaign aides: R. Brian "Rick" Tsujimura, an attorney and lobbyist; and Mike Amii, the mayor’s deputy director of Parks & Recreation. To cover the expenses of the party, the Harris campaign committee kicked in about $5,600.

"During our brief visit to Washington, D.C., this past week," Tsujimura wrote to a potential contributor, "the Democratic National Committee asked the mayor to raise $100,000 in "soft money." We are asking your kokua in helping the party and its candidates, Al Gore and Joseph Lieberman, raise the necessary funds to meet the onslaught of unbridled spending by the Republican Party. This national contest is critical to Hawaii. ... The mayor has asked that I send this personal note to you asking [you] to once again step forward and make a statement about the stance of working men and women for the Democratic ticket. ... Please make your check out to the Democratic National Committee (Tax I.D. #52-0958906). Your organization can contribute up to $20,000. The check needs to be sent to me by Friday, Oct. 27." Harris and his chief fund-raiser, attorney Peter Char, were copied.

Which Honolulu corporations and individuals gave to the DNC through Harris was not revealed by Harris or his committee when asked. But 17 checks from Oahu were deposited by the DNC in November, most (13) of them on the 21st, including the check from the Jeremy Harris Campaign Committee. Only the Harris campaign knows whether these other checks came through Harris or were contributed individually.

The Oahu checks were from:

Integrated Construction, Inc., $250. The Wu Organization, $1,000. McNeil Wilson, $1,000.

Laird, Christianson, & Harris, $1,000. Oceanit Laboratories Inc., $2,000. Anbe, Aruga & Ishizu Architects Inc., $2,000. Victoria Ward Ltd., $2,500. R.M. Towill Corp., $5,000. Engineers Surveyors Hawaii Inc., $5,000. SSFM International, $10,000. Wilson Okamoto & Associates, $10,000. Aloha Tool & Rental Inc., $10,000. Jeremy Harris Campaign Committee, $13,300. Gary O. Galiher, $5,000. Diane T. Ono, $5,000. Spezzano & Associates LTD., $100. Delta Construction Corp., $500. Furutani, Sato & Komatsubara, $750.

The mayor’s effort to raise money for the DNC wasn’t confined to Hawaii. In early November, Harris flew to California to appear at a Democratic rally with President Clinton in San Jose. Tsujimura and Amii went along, to get "funding for Democratic Party," according to an expense report. Again, the Harris campaign committee footed the travel bill, about $1,400.

That Jeremy Harris raised big bucks for the DNC is not surprising. For one, he is running for governor in 2002 and an opponent in the primary will be Mazie Hirono. The lieutenant governor is a vice chair of the DNC. Will his soft money contribution match her hard work in the eyes of Democratic voters? Maybe not.

But it had to have made a big impression at the DNC.

Mazie says she wishes Harris had spent that much effort raising money for the Hawaii Coordinated Campaign: "That money would have been spent here."

To the chagrin of other Democrats, Jeremy Harris has cinched the title of Mr. Democrat in Hawaii.’

Remember that a few years ago, political polls showed that folks weren’t all that sure Harris was a Democrat. He’d been second in command to then-Republican Mayor Frank Fasi, so it was reasonable for voters to assume Jeremy was GOP, too. To correct that erroneous impression, in the closing days of the 1994 special election, the Harris campaign placed newspaper ads proclaiming Jeremy was a life-long Democrat.

After what Harris did big time for the Gore campaign, there’s no longer any confusion about whose party card he carries, nor how deep his political pocket is.

Bob Dye is a Kailua-based historian and writer.

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