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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, November 11, 2001

Can't Hirono just say she's switching races so she can win?

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

Mazie Hirono was asked in about five different ways, "Are you running for mayor because you think you can't win the race for governor?"

She was asked directly. She was asked indirectly. She was asked in ways that perhaps allowed for a most graceful answer.

But she stood there at her Friday press conference and said no.

She said it about five times, and very directly. Very plainly. She was calm and confident, no hemming and hawing. There's no way you could say she seemed insincere.

So why is it hard to believe her?

Because we know she wanted to be governor. She said it. We heard it. Tradition would have her, the lieutenant governor, as heir to the throne.

And because we can see what kind of opponent the omnipresent Jeremy Harris would be in the Democratic primary race. But there was no shadow of disappointment on Hirono's face as she made her announcement. Only resolve.

The sincerity meter dipped just a bit each of the three times Hirono mentioned Sept. 11 as a factor in her decision to run for mayor and not the state's top office.

Hirono said that after a time of general cynicism, when people largely wanted government to get out of their lives, Sept. 11 changed attitudes and expectations, and made people turn to government for help. Thus, she said, more and more people asked her to consider running for mayor, saying her style of leadership is needed at the city level.

Which may be, but haven't we heard Sept. 11 used as a reason for anything and everything in the past few weeks, and isn't it a bit of a stretch in this case? Wouldn't the events of Sept. 11 inspire her to a position of greater influence rather than one with a smaller scope?

Toward the end of the press conference, Hirono was asked if polls showed she couldn't beat Harris. She smiled as she answered, "The poll showed I could have won."

But the follow-up question was more pointed. Did the polls show her far behind Harris? Hirono's smile dropped.

"What does that matter?" she replied.

Does it matter?

Are we such superficial voters that we'll shy away from any impression that someone is a loser? Are we so fickle that we'll turn away at the first sign of a candidate's weakness?

And is it a bad thing to admit switching to run a race you can win?

What if a candidate stood up and said, "Listen, I wanted to run for governor. Everybody knew that. But it ain't happening for me this time around, so I'm gonna aim where I know I can hit the target. I'm the same person, the same intellect, the same years of service, the same character. I hope the voters see I can do a good job as mayor."

Or do politicians believe that kind of candor is more than we can handle?

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-8172.