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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Never a gray area with Frank Fasi

By David Shapiro

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Frank Fasi's black hat

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Former Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi was forever battling the news media during his public life, and I have to admit he usually got the better of us.

But we had our moments and I flashed on one of them when an obituary included the famous picture of Fasi driving one of his newly arrived buses around the Honolulu wharf while waving his cowboy hat out the window.

If Fasi was defined by his flair for the dramatic, the dramatic act that made him was breaking a strike at Harry Weinberg's bus company by buying a fleet of buses from Texas to start the city's own system, which became TheBus.

After Fasi returned triumphantly from Dallas, he called reporters to his office for a news conference and we found him sitting with his feet up on his desk, sporting a shiny new pair of western boots and wearing a black cowboy hat pulled low over his eyes like a gunslinger in repose.

We asked, "Isn't it the bad guys who wear the black hats?"

The scowl from under the Stetson suggested that if he really had a gun, he would have drawn on us.

The next time I saw Fasi, he was wearing the white cowboy hat that would become his trademark for a time. He even named his campaign committee "Good Guys For Fasi."

I couldn't resist having a little fun when I later learned that Councilman Frank Loo, a political odd duck who was often at odds with the mayor, had also once worn a white cowboy hat as a campaign gimmick.

My editor found a picture of Loo in his hat and I wrote a little story that ran with photos of the two 10-gallon pols side by side. Fasi soon retired his cowboy hat.

The cowboy hats symbolized for me how things with Fasi were always so black or white. He was right and you were wrong. You were with him or against him. There was no middle ground.

There's a theory of municipal governance that the best path to a well-run city is to find the meanest SOB in town and make him mayor. Fasi was the poster child for this school of thought.

He thought Mr. Nice Guy was for sissies. He was fine with being lonely at the top; all that mattered was being the guy at the top. He enjoyed flaunting his power, and his imperious ways could be difficult for even his allies to take.

Fasi clung to grudges like loaves of bread in the Great Depression that spawned him. When the Star-Bulletin's previous owner tried to shut the newspaper in 1999, it was 31 years and two changes of ownership removed from the origins of Fasi's feud with the paper, but still, at 79, he rushed to our parking lot to gloat before the TV cameras.

I once had a mortgage loan rejected because a $70 million lawsuit he filed against me and four fellow editors in a fit of pique was counted as a liability by the bank until a judge threw out the case.

But it was exactly this ego-driven personality that enabled Fasi to get City Hall buzzing with unprecedented creative energy that produced so many accomplishments that reshaped Honolulu for the better TheBus, a beautiful civic center, satellite city halls, open markets, Summer Fun, neighborhood boards, major park expansion.

In the end, you had to like the guy because he was honest about who he was. And you had to respect that he was the rare politician whose campaign slogan was no lie Fasi got it done.