Wednesday, January 3, 2001
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Posted on: Wednesday, January 3, 2001

Harris: Will action match his rhetoric?

Surrounded by a politically akamai Cabinet and full of enthusiasm, Jeremy Harris yesterday launched a new term as mayor of Honolulu and a likely campaign for governor.

Harris’ inaugural address yesterday, at the newly rebuilt Kapiolani Bandstand, was mostly about the future — which was the first signal that he has begun to sketch the outlines of a gubernatorial bid.

Traditionally, Harris is a details man: full of facts and figures on sewers, roads and the other hardware of city government.

But yesterday’s speech was far more focused on his vision for the future, a future in which government is reshaped and our economy altered from today’s huge reliance on tourism.

These are themes that work well for Honolulu. But they are also statewide themes that can grow with Harris as his political plans take shape.

Clearly, Harris sought to tap in on lingering discontent within the community over what is sometimes called the "good old boys" system — a form of closed shop in which average citizens feel they cannot gain access to their own government.

He offered up a pretty good line in this regard:

"The voice of the people must always speak louder than the whines or whispers of special interest."

Clearly, the ideal of an open, empowering government is one image Harris hopes to carry forward into 2002.

The other major theme yesterday was the importance of diversifying our economy away from over-reliance on tourism. This is a theme that every candidate uses at one time or another. Harris’ take was to focus on Honolulu’s future as a high-tech service and research center for the Asia-Pacific region.

In this, he is building on existing efforts to export Hawaii’s expertise in urban planning, waste management, transportation planning and alternative-energy development into the Pacific region.

Finally, Harris set up a theme that is closely designed to fit a challenge to the civic status quo — the right place to be for a candidate who does not come out of state government.

"Our history as a city and as a state has been one of great resistance to change," he said. "It’s said that we suffer from paralysis by analysis."

In short, Harris set himself up yesterday as an agent of change — impatient with the status quo and eager to open up both our government and our economy.

It works well as a thematic grounding for a campaign for governor. But it also serves well as a model for a newly elected mayor.

And that is where these great words will first have to be put into practice. Because political careers aren’t built on rhetoric alone; they are built on performance.

And for the next two years at least, the performance that counts is what happens at City Hall.

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