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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 10, 2001

Bob Dye
No sweat yet for mayor in next race

By Bob Dye
Kailua-based historian and writer

From City Hall, at the corner of Punchbowl and King streets, to Murphy's Irish pub, at the corner of Nu'uanu Avenue and Merchant Street, is a good hike, even for a young-looking 50-year-old guy with long legs.

Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris greets supporters gathered at City Hall for a State of the City address.

Advertiser library photo • Jan. 20, 2000

Walking from the municipal center, across what were once dusty plains in days gone dim, to that spot of town where Kamehameha the Great held court is healthy exercise, and historically interesting. Maybe, prophetic! Jeremy Harris, too, plans to politically unite all the islands under his leadership.

I decided to tease the mayor about walking instead of driving, for fear of being tagged and towed. Murphy has been grousing for years that in midafternoon cars are towed away from meters to make parking room for the trucks that do the towing. The pub nearly empties at that hour. Worse, the tap goes unpulled. A friendly discussion between mayor and publican over the festering issue could be fun.

Jeremy showed no signs of even being winded by the walk as he worked his way through the restaurant to my table. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to salute him, and tell him what a good job he's doing. Murphy, himself, shook the mayor by the hand, and warmly so, grinning from ear to ear, and not saying a word about parking.

When Jeremy sat down at the table I noticed that not even his lei had wilted in the hot sun. But I offered him a cold pint of Guiness anyway. He shook his head negatively.

"I tasted Guiness for the first time a few months ago," he informed me in that warm but serious way of his. "It's an acquired taste." He smiled virtuously and ordered iced tea instead.

I acquired the taste immediately, I confessed somewhat sheepishly.

A relentless fixer-upper, Mayor Jeremy Harris has improved this oldest section of downtown, and parts of adjoining Chinatown look just great. Cheek by jowl with the glistening financial district, this is Harris country.

Andy Anderson, a possible opponent, agrees. "Jeremy is popular within Honolulu, and I personally think he is doing an outstanding job as mayor of our city."

Apparently, Jeremy's job performance as mayor won't be a debatable campaign issue.

Only recently elected mayor for a third time, Harris announced early his candidacy for governor. I complimented him on being so forthright so soon. He explained that the campaign spending law requires a candidate for a specific office to formally announce before collecting even a hundred dollars to run for that post. "So, there was a technical reason, too," he admitted with a sly smile.

When Harris made his low-key announcement, some critical folks claimed he couldn't chase after the governorship and lead the city at the same time. That's not apparent from the way he talks. He skipped between city, state, national, and international issues as easily as he smiled, and as often as his cell phone rang.

"How did we ever get along without these?" he wonders.

Harris is relaxed, comfortable, because his polls show he is the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. But privatization will be an issue. UPW's Gary Rodrigues does not favor your candidacy, I understated.

"We have around 300 contracts with private companies to provide services to the city — like custodial work and tree trimming, and the Wai'anae landfill.

"Because of them, we've saved money. It's good business to privatize, if applied with common sense." He shook his head. "Privatization wasn't an easy battle with the UPW. It took nine years. No one was laid off. And we've saved $6.4 million."

Rodrigues hopes he can reverse the recent vote on privatization.

"The voters aren't with him."

A recent poll conducted by Don Clegg, who works for the Harris organization, revealed 20.5 percent agreed with Gary's views, and 57.3 percent disagreed. The others didn't know or refused to say.

"Most people want government to privatize even more functions," Harris said, "and do it without prior union approval."

Again, a Clegg poll showed that 52.6 percent support the mayor on privatization, and 42.7 percent agree with Gary's stand. The remaining 4.7 percent didn't have an opinion. But most respondents, 50 percent , said public worker unions are a positive influence on our political process, with 45 percent disagreeing, and the rest undecided. Hawai'i is still a pro-union state, and Harris needs union support.

Jeremy, high on tech, told an incredible story: "When I went to work for the city in 1985, there was only one fax machine in all of City Hall. One! And the operation of it was entrusted to a single employee. We had to bring that person in one weekend to receive a fax from Washington, D.C." He laughed at how fast technology has changed. "Now our use of technology is on a par with private business," he said with apparent pride.

And if elected governor, he intends to bring the state's technology "up to snuff." He nodded positively. "And overhaul the bureaucracy!" He leaned forward, looking earnest, and promised, "With efficiency, by running a tight ship, taxes can go down." He has reduced the city work force by 8 percent, he claimed.

Will you fix education?

"People want value for their tax dollar." He worked in Kaua'i classrooms, first through 12th grades, as part of the Sea Grant program at Kaua'i Community College, so he knows something about the problems teachers face. He can't stand to see broken windows, banged-up furniture, and untended lawns at schools.

But his thoughts about our state schools goes beyond physical neglect and vandalism. He believes Hawai'i's "true destination is the knowledge industry, not the tourism industry." And to attract and nurture that high-paying industry requires an educated workforce.

"The University of Hawai'i must be free of political interference: Regents should not be tinkering with curriculum," he stated. He hasn't yet met the new UH president, Evan Dobelle, but has heard good things about him. He likes Chatt Wright, president of Hawai'i Pacific University, with whom he has had preliminary discussions on a joint venture with exciting international implications.

He digressed. "My wife, Ramona, and I were on a reef in Micronesia, and someone yells a greeting, 'Hi, Mayor Harris.' We were astounded. How did you know me? I asked. 'I went to HPU,' was the answer." Chatt has done a terrific job of making HPU an international university, he said.

Harris was running late. The cell phone rang more often, his office insisting he leave. He hasn't said all he wanted to.

"I'll send you a white paper," he promised. More diners filed past, slapping his back. About one, he said, "He's on one of my 'Vision' teams."

Those teams are brilliant politics.

"It's essential that we have sustainable community plans."

Brilliant politics! I insisted.

Smiling slightly, his eyes seem to say, "That, too."