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The Honolulu Advertiser

By Jerry Burris

Posted on: Friday, February 5, 2010

Newspapers exasperated, informed him

 • Aloha, mayor

Several years ago, a bunch of local reporters from several media outlets were having a quick lunch at a Downtown sandwich shop.

As we were eating, Frank Fasi then mayor walked by and waved a perfunctory hello. But after a few steps, he turned and came back to our table.

"You know the trouble with you guys is, you sit around and just talk to each other all the time. Get out and talk to some real people, that's the way to do your job."

Now, I'm not sure I remember the quote precisely right, but that was the sense of it. And Frank was right. And it points to something not everyone understood about "Da Mayah." Businessman, politician, troublemaker, devoted father and, if my guess is correct, frustrated newspaper editor.

Over the years Fasi had raging battles with the two major daily newspapers (less so with television and radio for some reason) and the papers gave as good as they got. The Advertiser in particular campaigned editorially against Fasi in his political adventures, although it supported many of his major initiatives such as the rail transit project.

It is no exaggeration to say that the enmity, shall we say, between Advertiser Editor George Chaplin and Fasi was visceral and real. The newspaper, Fasi would suggest, was not worth using for his beloved dog Gino to handle his business on.

But that was after he read it.

For the truth is that Fasi, like many of his generation, was a loyal, believing reader of the newspapers. His aides cannot remember how many times they came into his office in the morning to find Fasi shaking the paper and pointing to an article and demanding that they "do something about it!" and right now. Sometimes the article was critical of a city action. Other times it pointed to a small civic problem that could be resolved with some attention from City Hall.

The point is, if it was in the newspaper, it was real as far as Fasi was concerned.

That may help explain why Fasi, more than any other contemporary Island politician I can think of, cared what the papers said about him and his administration. And it helps explain why he engaged in many famous feuds with them. After all, if in his mind what the papers said mattered more than almost anything else, then it was nearly unbearable for him if they were not on his side.

When he was unhappy, Fasi would strike back in difficult and expensive ways. He got the city involved in an (ultimately unsuccessful) lawsuit against the joint operating agreement that allowed the Advertiser and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin to join advertising and production facilities but not news-gathering operations to save money and keep two papers alive.

In a pique against the Star-Bulletin, he once refused to allow their reporter, my Star-Bulletin counterpart Richard Borreca, into his news conferences. Federal Judge Sam King knocked that idea down, so Fasi briefly took to banning all print representatives from his conferences.

At one point, so frustrated had Fasi become at his belief that the papers were failing to do their duty as chroniclers of his achievements that he briefly started a newspaper of his own. A famous hands-on tinkerer, he got a press running and for a short period of time published a paper staffed by skilled journeymen hired away from the dailies.

That didn't last long. But Fasi remained a committed kibitzer, reader and frequent critic of the papers he loved to hate.

Several years ago a colleague, John Strobel, told Fasi that the clips about him took up more shelf space in the Advertiser library than any other individual. A small grin passed across Fasi's face. "Really?" he asked. John didn't have the heart to tell the mayor that a bunch of those clippings were far from complimentary.

But in a way, that didn't matter. Frank Fasi was determined to make his mark on Honolulu and in many ways, if that mark was not noted in the newspapers, it didn't happen.

Well, it did and it was.