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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, February 5, 2010

An iconic mayor Honolulu cannot forget

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Former Honolulu mayor Frank Fasi looks at a newspaper declaring his 1968 mayoral win his first.

ADVERTISER LIBRARY PHOTO | 1968

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Even if the 15-story municipal building did not bear his name, Honolulu certainly will never forget Frank F. Fasi, who died Wednesday. He was one of the city's most iconic figures.

Whatever the official chronicle had recorded of his outspoken, often controversial public life, the fondest memories of Fasi surely belong to the city's working people, the beneficiaries of the mayor's most energetic years of service.

For starters, wheeled monuments to the former mayor's memory are seen at regular intervals along city streets: The expansion of its bus service is credited by many to Fasi, champion of the "little guy."

Giving them, and senior citizens in particular, more affordable, reliable transportation, as well as more vibrant parks-and-recreation services and satellite city halls, rank among his celebrated achievements.

This legacy of service presents a lesson or perhaps a rebuke for today's politicians, who too often fail to muster the bold leadership needed to effectively serve their constituents and the community at large.

Fasi's political career was anything but a smooth, straightforward ride, however, and it featured numerous run-ins with the city's daily newspapers.

He was famous as a perennial also-ran in elections before hitting his stride, finally winning the mayor's perch on the top floor of Honolulu Hale.

Once there, he presided over a city in the midst of a development boom, and he took sustained legal battering for his dealings with some of those developers, the Kukui Plaza case most notorious among the scandals. The state brought, and later dropped, a bribery charge against the mayor. Seemingly unbowed, he persisted in his pursuit of his ultimate goal, the governor's office.

Former Gov. George Ariyoshi, his adversary for three of those attempts and with the Kukui Plaza case occurring on his watch, remembered numerous caustic encounters with Fasi.

And then, once both were out of office, hostilities ceased, Ariyoshi said. He recalled a dinner following a charity golf tournament in which he was seated opposite Fasi. The former mayor promptly rose and walked away. Ariyoshi assumed it was in protest but Fasi returned with a plate of sushi, and placed it before his former foe.

"I was touched by this," Ariyoshi said. "It was as though there is respect among politicians ...we were political enemies, but it's all behind us now, and he wanted to let me know."

For his part, Fasi never found it as easy as Ariyoshi to accept that his time in politics had ended, seeking office even after he lost the large following he had in his prime.

But while he was in that prime, he accomplished a great deal for people who needed an advocate. Fasi may have been born in Hartford, Conn., but Honolulu was his city. More than any mayor before or since, Frank Fasi left a lasting imprint on his adopted home town.