City politics literally belong in the gutter
By Bob Dye
Kailua-based writer and historian
My thoughts are in the gutter.
Advertiser library photo April 20, 1997
Dealing with such matters as sewage spills is dirty work, but someone's got to do it. Could such a stance win a mayoral or council race?
Advertiser library photo April 20, 1997
OK, so municipal sanitation is not the stuff of great political slogans. Not usually, anyway. But in the 2002 races for Honolulu mayor and city council seats, those unglamorous slogans could produce winners.
With that in mind, any candidate is free to put these slogans on a bumper sticker. Public awareness could make a difference in getting a long-needed job done.
"There is a critical need to upgrade the sewer system," says Dr. Kenneth Sprague, the former head of environmental services at the city and now a member of a citizens committee advising the city council. Another member of that committee, Tax Foundation head Lowell Kalapa, agrees: "We are under a consent decree by the federal Environmental Protection Agency to upgrade our wastewater treatment facilities by 2005. And we have done little of that so far."
Add public safety (fire, police, civil defense, among other things) to health and sanitation as the city's "core businesses" supported by the general fund and you have the basic city services that must take precedence ahead of all others. Candidates who promise to fulfill these basic responsibilities without raising taxes and incurring an enormous debt will command the most voter attention.
Again under the firm hand of John DeSoto as council chairman, and now under tenacious budget chairwoman Ann Kobayashi, the council is embarked on bringing fiscal restraint and accurate forecasting to the city budget process.
Kobayashi claims the city is on the "edge of a financial disaster."
The $68 million sewer fund is in danger of being raided. While some officials urge that the fund continue to be spent to upgrade the rapidly aging system, others see it as a way to fund other projects with more appeal.
Of such importance is next year's budget that more than 300 folks showed up for Wednesday's budget hearing. The proceeding began at 6 p.m. and didn't end until after 5 on Thursday morning.
DeSoto is counting the days until he finishes his final council term. He has spent 16 years in elective office and is looking forward to life after politics.
Kobayashi will seek re-election, along with council members Romy Cachola and Gary Okino. All of the other elected council members leave office because of mandatory term limits. Appointed Councilwoman Darrlyn Bunda (named to replace Rene Mansho, who resigned) will not, by agreement, seek election. So there will be six open seats. Open seats usually draw a crowd.
With the city entering a period of possible downsizing and probable belt-tightening under a new mayor and council, the large number and high quality of municipal office-seekers is as surprising as it is welcome.
Five well-known and generally respected people are running in the possible special nonpartisan election for mayor Councilman Duke Bainum; former Mayor Frank Fasi; Mufi Hannemann, former council chairman; Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono; and Keith Kaneshiro, the former city prosecutor and state director of public safety.
Other well-known public figures have either announced or pulled nomination papers for nonpartisan council seats. They are: Rep. Charles Djou, Rep. Nestor Garcia, former Rep. Gerald Hagino, mayoral aide Nick Houtman, and former state Sen. Stan Koki, who ran for lieutenant governor.
Contemplating a council race are activist Mike Gabbard; former speaker of the House and Bishop Estate trustee Henry Peters; and state Sen. Rod Tam.
If Peters enters the council race to fill the District 9 seat to be vacated by DeSoto, he will be an acknowledged front-runner. Like DeSoto, he comes from a powerful Wai'anae Coast political family that rose to prominence through the Honolulu Model Cities Program. His mother is Hoaliku Drake, a former head of Hawaiian Homes and a cabinet officer when Fasi was mayor. His aunt is Agnes Cope, the coast's culture and arts icon. A cousin is Hawaiian activist Kamaki Kanahele.
Peters expects to make a formal announcement within a few weeks. If elected, the former Democratic speaker of the house will be the most powerful figure to sit on the city council in recent history. Political observers speculate that a council seat will be his first step back to statewide power.
Other citizens have taken out nomination papers for the city council: District 1, Donna Broome, John Kaopua and James Manaku; District 2, David Stant; District 3, Kimberly Kalama, Charles Penn, and James Wong; District 4, Jerry Drelling, Tracy Okubo (a former aide to U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink), Charles Rodgers, John Steelquist, and Arvid Youngquist; District 9, Guillermo Colon. Many are entering politics with valuable neighborhood board experience.