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The Honolulu Advertiser

Advertiser Staff

Posted on: Friday, February 5, 2010

Cec Heftel, former KGMB owner and congressman from Hawaii, dies at 85

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Former U.S. Rep. Cec Heftel acknowledged supporters at his campaign headquarters. Heftel, the former KGMB owner, died yesterday at 85.


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Former U.S. Congressman Cec Heftel died yesterday at 85 in San Diego.

He had been in failing health for a while and died of natural causes, according to Laura Figueira, who was district director when Heftel was in Congress.
Heftel moved to Hawai'i in 1964.
He owned KGMB AM-FM and TV during the 1960s and '70s, which at the time were the top-rated in the country.
Radio personality Michael Perry called Heftel a “showman,” who loved promotions and stunts, but also believed in giving back to the community.
“He was an incredibly brilliant guy,” Perry said. “He wanted to give back to the community, and he did that in many ways. He always felt he had something to offer.”
As owner of KGMB-TV, Heftel decided in to start an afternoon children's show, "Checkers and Pogo." Thousands of Island children tuned in every afternoon to watch the popular show with its wacky array of friends and adventures. It ran from 1967 to 1982.
He sold the station in 1977 after he was elected to the U.S. Congress.
He served in Congress from 1977 to 1986. He resigned from Congress to run for governor, but lost in the Democratic primary to John Waihee.
In 1986, Heftel lost a controversial race to John Waihee for the Democratic nomination to succeed Gov. George Ariyoshi. Heftel claimed he was smeared by false rumors in the closing days of the primary.
After years out of public life, he ran for and was elected to one term on the state Board of Education in 2004.
He said at the time, he was running for office "to create a budget that directs funding to the classroom, so that we can educate our children first and support the bureaucracy last."
He did not seek re-election in 2008.
Garrett Toguchi, Board of Education chairman, said during Heftel’s time on the board he “showed himself to be very committed to education and concerned about improving public education in Hawaii.”
In a statement, Figueira said Heftel was a “demanding boss who not only expected the best from his staff, he also wanted the best for the people of Hawaiçi. He was a visionary who was never afraid of a new idea.”
In a statement, U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie said Heftel had a “devotion to Hawaii.”
“He demonstrated this through his many years as a leader in the broadcasting industry and a distinguished career as a public servant,” Abercrombie said.

Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona said Heftel “was a man of the people who believed in the power of service over political partisanship.”

“He was passionate about educating our young people, and he never gave up trying to improve public education in Hawaii, which is a lesson we can all benefit from learning.”

Private funeral arrangements are pending and will be coordinated with family members in Hawaii and on the Mainland, Figueira said.