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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, December 22, 2003

Political strategist Steve Hirano dead at 57

By Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

Steve Hirano, a well-known political strategist, lobbyist and marketing professional, died Friday at his home.

In 1994, Steve Hirano was attacked by an elephant at a Blaisdell Center circus.

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Hirano, 57, died of cancer.

"He had his family around him from the time we brought him home," said his wife, Amy Hayashi Hirano.

Hirano was highly respected as a lobbyist, and his political work spanned both major parties.

He worked with Democrat John Waihee in his bid for lieutenant governor, and, in 1986, with Republican D.G. "Andy" Anderson in his race for governor.

Anderson was defeated by Waihee. Both men remained close friends of Hirano, Hayashi Hirano said.

Hirano worked for five years with the Board of Water Supply as a consultant and a lobbyist, said Clifford Jamile, manager and chief engineer.

"He was very energetic," Jamile said. "Extremely full of life. He was a guy who was full of ideas — wonderful ideas."

Hirano's success as a lobbyist was tied to his credibility among lawmakers, Jamile said.

"He had a unique ability to work both sides of the aisle in both houses," Jamile said. "He had tremendous credibility among legislators. They knew him, and they knew they could trust him. When he gave his word, he worked hard to see to it that any promises made were kept."

Because Hirano embraced life so enthusiastically, Jamile said, his death was hard to accept.

"He almost seemed invincible," he said.

Hirano's marketing work paired him with a variety of companies. He recently helped Norwegian Cruise Line establish its presence in Hawai'i.

Hirano preferred working behind the scenes, his wife said, but once, the near-invincibility that Jamile saw in him was demonstrated in a very public manner.

In August 1994, Hirano was working as a publicist for a circus appearing at Blaisdell Center when a 9,500-pound elephant attacked and killed her trainer, then made a run for it.

Hirano was trying to close and lock a gate when the elephant, Tyke, charged through, knocking Hirano to the ground. Hirano tried to roll out of the way, but Tyke pinned him with her feet and assumed the "killer pose," aiming her massive head at the man beneath her.

Police fired their weapons at Tyke, momentarily distracting the elephant and allowing Hirano to escape as the animal fled toward Ward Avenue. The elephant eventually was killed.

Hirano kept his fondness for circus animals, and later worked with Ringling Brothers, visiting an elephant-training facility in Florida, Hayashi Hirano said.

"He came back energized because he saw the animals were well taken care of," she said.

After escaping Tyke's wrath, Hirano began collecting elephant curios.

"It was his way of saying he was alive, that everything was all right," Hayashi Hirano said. "He had stuffed elephants, carved elephants, glass elephants, pictures of elephants. ...

"People would look at that and say, 'Are you nuts?' He'd just smile and say, 'I like elephants.'

"He was a special guy," she said. "He didn't really want to go, but I think God had a greater plan."

In addition to his wife, Hirano is survived by his children, James and Julie Hirano; stepchildren Stephanie Koester and Scott Hayashi; and three grandchildren.

Services are scheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday at Diamond Head Mortuary.

Reach Karen Blakeman at 535-2430 or kblakeman@honoluluadvertiser.com.