Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, January 26, 2004

Harris' plate full in final year

By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Staff Writer

With less than a year left in his term and no campaign to distract him, Mayor Jeremy Harris is going full steam ahead to initiate several projects.

Mayor Jeremy Harris said he doesn't plan to seek any other seat this fall, but didn't rule out running in 2006.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Harris, with term limits barring him from seeking re-election, said he does not plan to seek any other seat this fall. The mayor leaves office at the end of the year.

He did not rule out running for office in 2006, but gave no specifics.

His plans for his 10th and final year as mayor will likely be included in his State of the City address Thursday night before the City Council. They include a revitalization of Kuhio Avenue in Waikiki and King Street in Kalihi, a new aquatic center and tennis clubhouse at Central O'ahu Regional Park, and creating a more vibrant Chinatown.

During a recent wide-ranging interview, Harris talked about his final year in office as well as his assessment on his accomplishments during one of longest mayoral tenures in Honolulu history.

State of the City

Mayor Jeremy Harris will deliver the State of the City address at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the Honolulu Hale courtyard.

The public is invited and should be seated by 6 p.m. for an opening program that will include musical performances.

The half-hour address will be televised on KHON-2, KGMB-9 and 'Olelo Channel 54. The speech will also be broadcast live on KSSK AM-59 and KHVH AM-830 and webcast on the city's Web site.

Free parking is available in the Civic Center parking garage off Alapa'i and Beretania streets.

"It's going to be a busy year," Harris said. "We're not going to rest on our laurels. We're going to go out there and really make this last year count."

Harris became Honolulu's mayor in 1994. During his tenure, Harris tried to move from simply responding to problems to creating a grand plan for O'ahu. "We needed to spark a renaissance in Honolulu and that's what we've tried to do," he said.

Much of the Harris administration's legacy is visible throughout the island, from the restoration of Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki to the expanse of green soccer fields at the Waipi'o Peninsula Soccer Stadium.

The mayor also prides himself in having created tourist and sports attractions while attracting residents back into Waikiki and offering children an alternative to drugs and gangs. "It's much better to be on a team than to be in a gang and you can't be in a team if you don't have the fields and you don't have the facilities and we're providing our kids that," he said.

But the Harris years were also marked with controversy. In 2000, former housing official Michael Kahapea was convicted of stealing almost $5.8 million from the city in the 'Ewa Villages scandal. Last year, a monthlong strike by bus drivers left the city with no public transportation, other than a few dozen shuttle vans driven by city volunteers.

And one lingering controversy is the investigation launched in 2002 by the prosecutor's office into Harris' campaign finances. The ongoing investigation has led to criminal charges against more than 15 donors linked to major city contractors.

Transportation on agenda


• Born: Dec. 7, 1950, in Wilmington, Del.

• Education: Two bachelor's degrees in biology from the University of Hawai'i and a master's degree in population and environmental biology from the University of California-Irvine

• Spouse: Ramona Sachiko Akui Harris

• Career:

  • Instructor, Kaua'i Community College, 1972
  • Worked for the University of Hawai'i Sea Grant Advisory Service

• Political Experience:

  • Delegate to the 1978 Hawai'i Constitutional Convention
  • Kaua'i County Council, 1980-1984
  • Executive Assistant to the Mayor of the City and County of Honolulu, 1985
  • Deputy Managing Director, City and County of Honolulu, 1985-1986
  • Managing Director of the City and County of Honolulu, 1986-1994
  • Honolulu mayor, 1994-present
For his final year, Harris said the city will build the first phase of the controversial Bus Rapid Transit System that will essentially be hybrid electric express bus service between Iwilei and Waikiki.

He will also continue to push for a light rail or monorail system to connect the outlying areas and hopes the Legislature will establish a dedicated tax to finance it completely so no federal money will be required. If it is paid for by taxes, Harris thinks construction on a rail system could begin within 18 months, whereas going through the federal process would take about 10 years and would likely fail again because changeovers in lawmakers would make a consensus more elusive.

Harris also wants enhanced botanical gardens, a hydrogen park in Kapolei that will demonstrate how the city could reduce dependence on fossil fuels, and an Asia-Pacific Environmental Symposium that will help turn Honolulu into a world center for expertise in environmental areas.

"The whole idea is to be able to create industries that are going to give our kids more opportunities than simply working in the visitor industry," he said.

While Harris will propose adding a third boiler to H-Power, he said his staff is looking into a plasma arc facility that will turn some solid waste into "glassphalt," which can be used as a building material.

He also plans to roll out an islandwide recycling program that will divert more waste from the landfill. The city will always need a landfill for emergency purposes, but Harris said he would like to eliminate the need for regular dumping within five years.

Council requests

A few of Harris' projects will need approval by the City Council this year — primarily those dealing with solid waste, roads and sidewalks.

At least one council member wants Harris to focus on infrastructure needs, such as roads and solid waste. "It seems that he is starting on the repaving of the roads," said Ann Kobayashi, chairwoman of the City Council Budget Committee. "It's late, but it's never too late."

The sewers and the landfill also need attention, Kobayashi said. She also hopes Harris will look to new technology, rather than supporting the H-Power waste-to-energy plant and depending on the landfill.

Kobayashi also wants more cooperation from the administration, expecting more timely answers to her questions and better planning for projects. "We can work better together if we can all be more cooperative," Kobayashi said.

Governor in 2006?

Harris had planned to run for governor in 2002, but withdrew after the investigation into his campaign finances.

He said at the time that he made the decision because he didn't think he could win. Harris then surprised many by approaching the remainder of his term with renewed vigor.

His rebound has caused many to speculate that he might remain in politics, perhaps running for governor in 2006.

Harris, however, said people have incorrectly assumed he had a burning desire to be governor. "If the truth be known, I would be mayor forever," he said. "My real interest, my real love, is this city and building this city and making it a great city."

As for the investigation into his campaign finances, Harris said it has been heartbreaking to see his employees' reputations tarnished when people might presume that they awarded contracts in return for campaign donations.

"The professionals that are involved in awarding contracts in this city are professional and they never — they never — award contracts based on contributions or who their friends are," he said. "They've done it in an honest way."

Damage from probe unlikely

Gregory Gaydos, a Hawai'i Pacific University political science professor, doubts that the investigation has caused Harris any lasting damage, especially because he finds that most people think illegal political donations happen all the time anyway. "I think that's the kind of thing they would brush by if they liked you a lot," he said.

Gaydos believes that Harris could prove a formidable candidate if he were to run for governor in 2006.

But one way Harris' political ambitions could be hurt by the investigation is if he were forced to pay back the illegal contributions paid to his campaign. Bob Watada, Campaign Spending Commission executive director, said the commission has not taken a position on that issue, but "if he decides to run again, he may have to pay the excess contributions back."

With the investigation still ongoing, Watada could not estimate how much Harris might have to repay, except that it would be more than $100,000.

Harris, who stopped fund raising when he dropped out of the governor's race in 2002, said he has not thought about what effect the investigation might have on fund raising. In fact, he says he has not yet really considered a future campaign.

"I'm not ruling it out, but I'm not thinking about it or planning it," he said.

Reach Treena Shapiro at tshapiro@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.