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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mayor delivers confident message

By Jerry Burris

In what might have been his last State of the City address, Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann channeled FDR, exuding optimism and the political idea that brighter days are ahead of us.

What else could he do?

Unlike others running for governor, Hannemann has to answer directly for what lies before us. His Democratic opponent, Neil Abercrombie, can point to bills introduced and accomplishments achieved. But at the end of the day, no one places the state of the nation on Abercrombie's plate. His vote is only one of hundreds in the Congress.

His Republican opponent, Duke Aiona, can rest on the fact that very little the state has or has not done can be tagged to him personally. It is instructive that Hannemann made more than one reference to the lame duck governor, Linda Lingle, but nothing about her No. 2.

So, effectively, the message was: Hey, everything's OK, I'm in charge and pushing ahead with the people's business. To his credit, Hannemann put on the table the dangerous third rail of politics: taxes. He acknowledged that his administration had made the politically unpopular decision of raising property taxes and fees. Now that's a way to get elected!

Hannemann also made a virtue of his support for what has become a controversial municipal project, the multibillion-dollar rail transit project. "A leader has to have the courage of his convictions and the commitment to champion causes that may not always be popular but which are ultimately the right things to do," Hannemann said.

What you end up with is a win-win, but also lose-lose proposition for Hannemann as he plots his political future. He is the big boss of the biggest city in what is, let's face it, a fairly small state. The buck stops at his desk on more decisions on a daily basis than anyone, the governor excluded.

Since the governor is not running, Hannemann carries the burden and the obligation of being the one in charge. Taken that way, you could look at his State of the City address as less of a look at where Honolulu is going and more of a view of where the entire state is headed.

That's a heavy burden for any political speech. In the weeks and months to come, this talk will be measured by that standard.