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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, October 17, 2001

Volcanic Ash
Race for mayor is getting interesting

By David Shapiro

Voters will make momentous decisions about Hawai'i's future in next year's governor's election.

For pure political entertainment, we'll have the special election for mayor of Honolulu to replace Jeremy Harris after he resigns to run for governor.

A special election is the Powerball lottery of municipal politics — a nonpartisan winner-take-all affair, with no runoff between the top candidates. In a crowded field, victory can be had with remarkably few votes.

Four prominent politicians have announced and two others have shown interest in succeeding Harris, who first became mayor himself in a 1994 special election after Frank Fasi resigned to run for governor. Harris beat out three major candidates and a bunch of also-rans with 67,670 votes — just 30 percent of ballots cast.

That vote total — or less, depending on the number of candidates and voter turnout — could be the magic number again next year. Early handicapping starts with candidates who have shown they can pull 60,000 to 70,000 votes in O'ahu-wide races.

Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono became the frontrunner as soon as her campaign leaked that she is thinking of dropping out of the governor's race to run for mayor.

Hirono is popular among traditional Democrats and labor unions, and was a major asset on the ticket with Gov. Ben Cayetano that drew 145,839 votes on O'ahu in 1998.

If Hirono doesn't like her odds for governor next year, running for mayor would be a sharp career move. If she won, she would gain the administrative experience she lacks and automatically become a top contender for governor the next time around.

Hirono's interest must be causing indigestion for former Councilman Mufi Hannemann, who got 65,652 votes, or 34 percent, in a losing campaign against Harris last year. Simply holding that support would likely be enough to win in 2002.

But the strong backing Hannemann expects from unions and old-line Democrats would be up for grabs with Hirono in the race.

Councilman Duke Bainum is running with the encouragement of Harris, but he lacks the name recognition of Hirono and Hannemann and has never run island-wide.

Bainum has stayed clear of the ethical scandals that have bedeviled other council members. He loves the nuts and bolts of city government and will argue that Hirono and Hannemann are mainly interested in broader state issues.

Former Mayor Frank Fasi thinks he can regain past glory. After all, he got 127,939 votes when he was last elected mayor in 1992.

But his support has nose-dived since then. He received only 38,744 votes, or 19 percent, against Harris and Arnold Morgado in 1996 and only 23,293 votes, or 12 percent, against Harris and Hannemann last year.

Former Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro, who announced this week, received 90,227 votes when he was last elected in 1992. But he hasn't faced voters in a decade and hardly distinguished himself during his brief stint as chief of the state's troubled prison system. A lot of people, though, were once accustomed to marking his name on a ballot.

Republicans float state Sen. Bob Hogue, who has served only half a term in the Senate and before that was a TV sportscaster and a CPA. He would have trouble persuading voters he has the experience to be mayor.

But if he could pull the lion's share of Republican votes, even in a nonpartisan election, he's a threat. George W. Bush got 101,310 votes on O'ahu last year. A better measure of the hard-core Republican vote is the 59,943 votes John Carroll got on O'ahu in his U.S. Senate race against Daniel Akaka — still a significant number.

David Shapiro can be reached by e-mail at dave@volcanicash.net