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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 13, 2001

Bainum has Harris' backing for mayor

By John Dye
A Kailua-based historian and writer

I expected the announced mayoral candidate to wheel into the Ward Warehouse parking lot in a white van emblazoned with his name and profession: Duke Bainum, M.D. But a few months ago he traded that political trademark for a status symbol, a Lexus SUV. Duke ain't poor.

Councilman Duke Bainum gets high marks from his colleagues on the Honolulu City Council.

Advertiser library photo • Sept. 5, 1996

But the 48-year-old physician has something better than personal money to win. He has the support of a powerful politician in a high place — Mayor Jeremy Harris, himself the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for governor.

Jeremy's support goes beyond letting Duke represent him at public functions and appearing with him at others, to gain some much-needed name recognition. The support includes the services of Harris' money man, attorney Peter Char, and Harris pollster Don Clegg. Other backers are political insider Norma Wong and Bert Kobayashi, the former state senator from whom Duke learned about politics.

"I'll be sign-waving on Duke's behalf," says City Council colleague Steve Holmes. He confides, "Duke doesn't get along with Mufi (Hannemann)," the leading candidate for the job in the early going. He explains, "Duke is in politics because he has a good heart. Mufi is in it for himself."

"I hold Duke Bainum in the highest regard," says councilman John Henry Felix, a Republican. "He is a man of great character. Eminently qualified. A dedicated public servant."

Ad man Jim Loomis, a mutual friend, joined us for lunch at Kincaid's, at the 'ewa end of Ward Warehouse. Jim cut his political teeth on Frank Fasi's many campaigns, and later campaigned for Harris.

Is Duke your given name?

"It's a nickname given to me at Kuakini Hospital in 1980. People there thought my Arkansas accent sounded like The Duke's (John Wayne)." This Duke's given names are Mark Edmund.

Bainum served two terms in the state house of representatives before winning election to the city council six years ago. A general practitioner, he works part-time at the Sex Abuse Treatment Center at Kapi'olani Hospital. If elected, he'll give up that practice, he promises.

Will Mayor Harris be a hard act to follow?

"He's done a good job. And I'll expand on what he's started."

Will you continue the "Vision" process?

"Absolutely. That process empowers people to shape their community."

Duke once considered the idea of replacing the strong mayor/managing director administration we now have with a professional city manager and ceremonial mayor.

"There are many advantages to a municipal city manager. Efficiency is one. But there's no support for getting rid of our present system. However, if eIected, I will strengthen and expand the duties of the managing director.

Loomis interjects that Harris continued to act like a managing director after being elected mayor, liking nuts and bolts. And that Bob Fishman, Harris' first managing director, appeared more mayoral because of it. "They should have switched jobs," Jim said.

Duke, who received an ethics award from the Hawai'i chapter of the American Society of Public Administration, is obviously pained that two of his colleagues — Rene Mansho and Andy Mirikitani — have been charged with unethical behavior. If elected mayor, he promises to give some teeth to the city Ethics Commission.

The only other candidate, besides Hannemann, is former mayor Frank Fasi. "I have a great deal of respect for Mufi," says Duke. "He is articulate and very personable."

He agrees with his pollster that Fasi will get about 10 percent of the vote, and be a spoiler for Mufi. He also agrees with me that more people will be stepping forth to run for mayor, especially women.

I thought Ann Kobayashi, who once challenged Harris, would run. Instead, she has her eye on the council seat occupied by Andy Mirikitani. But if not Ann, surely some other well-known woman will run. Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono would be an exceedingly strong candidate, but she's contending for the gubernatorial nomination.

The race is winner-take-all, not your run-of-the-mill primary. The candidate with the most votes wins election. In a three-way race, possibly the victor would need but 34 percent of the vote.

Duke Bainum isn't the only candidate favored by Harris. For lieutenant governor, Harris is backing Jon Yoshimura, the chairman of the Honolulu city council. The ubiquitous Peter Char recently held a fund-raiser for Yoshimura, an attorney.

Bainum was there.

Having the backing of Harris gives a candidate more than an edge. Harris commands the most powerful political force in the history of this state. Walter Heen, former head of the Democratic Party, calls it a juggernaut.

If Harris and his stable of candidates are successful in their 2002 races, the structure of power in Hawai'i will be drastically altered. It will be Jeremy Harris who decides who our next U.S. senators will be. And he just might choose to be one of them. The next decade and beyond will be the Harris Era.