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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on Wednesday, November 6, 2002

Hirono, confident to end, concedes race

By Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Mazie Hirono took the stage with running mate Matt Matsunaga and thanked supporters after conceding the governor’s race to Linda Lingle.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

After being greeted by supporters, Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono voted at Star of the Sea school in her Wai‘alae Nui neighborhood.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

"Mind-blowin' Decisions" was the first song the band crooned at Mazie Hirono's campaign rally last night.

The late '70s Heatwave ballad seemed to capture Hawai'i's mood perfectly as voters settled in for a long night of nail biting over a gubernatorial race widely expected to be one of the state's closest ever.

The crowd fell silent shortly after 11:30 p.m. when Gov. Ben Cayetano, being interviewed on television after having seen the final vote tally, said it was clear the race was over and Linda Lingle had won.

Hirono appeared shortly before midnight to concede the race to her opponent.

"This has been one hell of an election for all of us," Hirono told her supporters.

She challenged Lingle to put her best forward and to do her best for Hawai'i and its people.

Cayetano said he would convene a Cabinet meeting today to assure a smooth transition to the first Republican administration in Hawai'i since 1962.

Early election results showed Hirono neck and neck with Lingle, but hundreds of Hirono supporters who gathered at the Neal Blaisdell Center remained confident their candidate would win.

The "old school" soul tunes were reminiscent of the era when Hawai'i's Democrats were solidly in power at the governor's office, not fighting for their political lives.

"This is going to be a close, exciting election, so I want all of you to stay here, to be noisy, be happy for everything you've done," Hirono told the crowd, which included many union members and their families.

That traditional power base, which kept Democrats in power for 40 years, proved as vital as ever for the kind of street-level organizing needed to boost a campaign that lagged behind Lingle's in raising money.

"You've all done such a terrific job," Hirono said. "You've poured your heart and soul into this campaign."

Hirono had stayed out of sight most of the day, working the telephones to urge voters to the polls and thank them for their backing.

She voted shortly after 11 a.m. at Star of the Sea school in her Wai'alae Nui neighborhood, where she was welcomed by a small crowd of supporters and the call of a blown conch shell.

"I just hope everybody decided that this is a very important election for the future of Hawai'i and that they all got out and voted," said Hirono, who was accompanied to the polls by her husband, Leighton Oshima, and mother, Laura Hirono.

Campaign volunteer Manu Mook Sr., who sounded the conch welcome, said he was sure Hirono would win and would bring prosperity to the state and to Native Hawaiians.

"All the people of Hawai'i are watching over her with love ... ," he said.

Mazie Hirono waves to supporters on stage after making her first appearance of the night around 6:15 p.m.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Mook said he believed Hirono would restore Hawai'i's financial health to the vitality felt during George Ariyoshi's tenure, 1974 to 1986.

Mook's good friend "Uncle Joe" Tassill said he supported Hirono because of her legislative experience as chair of the House Consumer Protection Committee, and that her eight-year stint as lieutenant governor made victory inevitable.

"A lot of times she went to bat for the people as a consumer advocate," Tassill said. "And if you look at history, it's always the lieutenant governor who wins, and it's going to happen again."

Hirono said she was proud of the campaign she had run, and downplayed the barrage of television advertisements that had attacked Lingle's credibility.

"I kept my campaign very positive and focused on the issues," Hirono said. "We did see negative campaigns this year. … All of the candidates should really say to anyone out there doing anonymous kinds of smears to really cut it out, because that's not the way we do it in Hawai'i, and I denounce those types of tactics.

"I think that we owe it to our voters to keep the campaigns positive and to the issues, and that's what I've tried to do."

She said she had no regrets as the race entered the home stretch, and was thankful she had had the chance to run.

"It's an awesome opportunity and an honor to be able to run for governor," Hirono said. "I came here as an immigrant and I feel as though I'm living out the American dream of giving everyone a chance to give back, and I've had a wonderful campaign experience — even the highs and the lows and everything else in between."

When asked by a reporter from Japan whether she believed she could win, Hirono didn't miss a beat.

"Can I win? I intend to win!" she exclaimed. "That's what politics is all about."

Hirono noted a victory would make her the first Asian American woman to be elected governor of any state.

"I think that's a big deal," she said. "That says to everyone in Hawai'i as well as across the country that the United States is a place that gives opportunities to minorities and people who truly want to serve.

"So it's a great moment for me, and it's been a life's journey, and I feel very honored to stand here for the first time having cast a vote for me for governor.

"It's a pretty neat feeling, I can tell you that."

Reach Johnny Brannon at jbrannon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.