Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

Posted on: Friday, February 5, 2010

Aloha, mayor

 • 'Fearless Frank' a tireless fighter
 • Newspapers exasperated, informed him
 • Recalling city's 'best mayor'
 • 'He was way ahead of our time'
Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Former Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi

spacer spacer
Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Frank Fasi spoke after filing nomination papers to be a Republican candidate for governor in 1998. His wife, Joyce, was seated next to him.


spacer spacer

Friends and foes of Frank F. Fasi yesterday remembered Honolulu's longest-serving mayor as a savvy politician who fought for the little guy and got things done, often with little regard for conventional practices.

Fasi, 89, died late Wednesday at his Makiki home. Son David Fasi said his father "died peacefully of natural causes ... surrounded by his adoring wife and children."

The mayor fell and broke his hip several weeks ago, David Fasi said. Joyce Fasi, the mayor's wife of more than 50 years, called his son Wednesday afternoon, telling him it was time to come to the Fasis' long-time home at the top of Makiki Street.

As news spread yesterday, it seemed nearly everyone had a warm memory of Fasi, the son of Italian immigrants, who led the city for 22 years.

His supporters remember how he sidestepped opposition to get things done. Even his detractors remember how he was quick to patch up differences.

"When you look around city hall or the city of Honolulu, everything good about our city Frank Fasi had a hand in it," said Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who beat Fasi in a mayoral primary only to win an endorsement from him in a general election in 2000. "His loss is something that is going to be very difficult for many in the community, including your present mayor."

Historian Tom Coffman called Fasi "bigger than life."

Fasi "took on the entire Democratic establishment just about single-handedly and won," said Coffman, recalling the 1968 election when Fasi first became mayor. Fasi would be elected to a total of six terms as mayor.

Fasi did so by "developing the image of the outsider who was going to somehow stand up for the little guy," Coffman said.

"That was his thing, he was a little guy," David Fasi said, noting that his father had stood in line in soup kitchens as a youth in Connecticut. "He never forgot where he came from."

Through the better part of four decades, Frank Fasi further cultivated that image with innovations aimed at helping regular folks.

Fasi established satellite city halls and neighborhood boards to bring government to the people. He started weekly farmers' markets that benefitted both consumers and growers. Summer Fun, Honolulu City Lights, the first skate park, senior programs and community gardens all began under Fasi.

To help ease traffic around town, Fasi instituted one-way traffic along key thoroughfares such as King and Beretania streets.

"You went into work every single day thinking that you were going to get the chance to do something important that day," said Jim Loomis, Fasi's director of information and complaint from 1971 to 1979.

"There was always something going on," Loomis said.


Sometimes the accomplishments came through Fasi's sheer will.

When T-shirt vendors began mushrooming along Waikīkī sidewalks and he was told he could not stop them, he put up concrete planters as barriers so they couldn't set up their tables.

As bus drivers from the Ho- -no-lulu Rapid Transit Co. went on strike in 1970, Fasi quickly got federal funding for a city-operated system and flew to Dallas to purchase buses. Always the showman, he drove one of the newly arrived buses while wearing boots and a white cowboy hat.

When City Council members objected to the loss of their parking spaces behind city hall fronting Hotel Street during the 1970s to make way for a new pedestrian mall, Fasi struck early one weekend morning with a bulldozer and pulled up the asphalt.

That led the state to follow suit and create a "lei of green" on the state Capitol side of Hotel Street as well, former Fasi aide Carol Costa said.

"When people look at it today, they don't realize that the diamondhead side of city hall used to be all parking," Costa said. "And now it's all green. He was ahead of his time, building an underground parking lot, putting a berm over it, and placing a child care center on top and the large municipal building next door."

In 2006, the block was renamed the Frank F. Fasi Civic Center and the municipal building became the Frank F. Fasi Municipal Building. Fasi and his wife attended the dedication.

Even Fasi's adversaries found something nice to say about him yesterday.

Former city councilwoman Marilyn Bornhorst clashed repeatedly with Fasi during her 14 years in office, which ended when she ran unsuccessfully to unseat Fasi as mayor in 1988.

Still, Bornhorst said, people liked his no-nonsense approach to governing.

"Mayor Fasi accomplished some important things for the city," Bornhorst said. "Not everyone approved of his methods. But, I think, people are frustrated by the slowness of government. They appreciated someone who just went and got it done. That is what people thought of him. 'Frank gets it done.' "


Often, those who clashed with Fasi later became allies. Republican stalwart D.G. "Andy" Anderson ran against Fasi. Later he became Fasi's managing director.

Sometimes allies became enemies. One-time protege and managing director Jeremy Harris was famously shunned by Fasi after, as mayor, Harris declined to support Fasi in his race for governor. Fasi would later run unsuccessfully against Harris in a bid to reclaim the third-floor office at Honolulu Hale.

In his autobiography, former governor Ben Cayetano recalled times when Fasi showed he was willing to say or do nearly anything true or not if it helped his political agenda. But Cayetano, who beat Fasi to take the governor's seat in 1994, said neither he nor Fasi carried a grudge.

"With him, during the election, anything goes," Cayetano said. "I got along with him regardless of the things he said about me during the election."

In 1998, Fasi endorsed Cayetano's re-election bid.

Former Gov. George Ariyoshi, who defeated Fasi three times for the governor's seat, recalled an encounter with Fasi in early 1987.

Ariyoshi, who had just left office, was playing in a benefit golf tournament that included Fasi.

At a tournament dinner, the two were scheduled to sit together, Ariyoshi said. When Ariyoshi arrived late, Fasi got up from the table without a word and walked away.

"I thought to myself I really must've done something to really irritate him," Ariyoshi said. "But he (Fasi) came back with a plate of sushi for me."

No words were exchanged, but none was needed. "I understood what he did. I was very, very grateful for that gesture," Ariyoshi said.

Former councilman John Henry Felix remembers that Fasi refused to speak to him for three months after Felix voted against a tax that would have brought a transit project to Honolulu.

One day, Fasi told him, "I forgive you," and the two began collaborating again, Felix said.


Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustee Walter Heen, a fixture in Hawai'i politics as long as Fasi, recalled him as sometimes a friend and sometimes an opponent.

"He was a tough son of a bitch," Heen said.

The two worked together to try to bring mass transit to Ho--no--lulu in the late 1960s but then clashed over plans to build a new stadium.

Then-governor John A. Burns, backed by Heen and the council, wanted the city to build the stadium in Hālawa but Fasi wanted something closer to town.

Ultimately, the state built Aloha Stadium.

"His stubbornness forced people to go around him," Heen said. "Sometimes you were able to go around him and sometimes you weren't," he said with a laugh. "He was a guy who was willing to fight and fight and fight and never give in."

Coffman, the historian, said ultimately Hawai'i voters did the right thing by keeping Fasi mayor for 22 years and denying him the governorship.

"He was a pretty good people's mayor," Coffman said. "The people of Hawai'i never trusted him with the powers of the governorship and I think, on some gut level, people had it right.

"You may want Frank to counterbalance the establishment from his bunker as mayor but you don't want to give him that much power."


Fasi was never bashful about his political favoritism toward contractors. He famously said "all else being equal, you help your friends, you don't help your enemies."

Kenneth Rappolt, the director of the city Wastewater Management Department under Fasi, served an eight-month jail term in 1994 for demanding campaign donations for nonbid city contracts.

In the late 1970s, the state attorney general's office investigated the contracts of the city's Downtown urban development project, Kukui Plaza. Bribery charges were brought against Fasi and longtime campaign fundraiser and adviser Harry C.C. Chung. But a trial that began in December 1977 ended only weeks later after developer Hal Hansen, a key witness, refused to testify.

Hannemann said he has offered the Fasi family the city's facilities should they want to hold a public service.

Services are pending, but David Fasi said last night that the family likely will take Hannemann up on that offer.

Advertiser Staff writers Robbie Dingeman, Curtis Lum and Mary Vorsino contributed to this report. Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at 525-8082.

• • •