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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 4, 2010

Farewell, mister mayor


By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

When a speaker joked that the late Frank Fasi must be looking down and laughing, Fasiís widow played along.

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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FRANK F. FASIíS POLITICAL CAREER AT A GLANCE:

1958: Wins first elected office, a seat in Territorial Senate.

1959-62: Loses races for U.S. Senate, mayor and U.S. House.

1964: Elected to City Council.

1968: Defeats D.G. ďAndyĒ Anderson to become mayor.

1972: Wins second term, defeating Andy Anderson.

1974: Loses to George Ariyoshi in Democratic primary for governor.

1976: Wins third term as mayor.

1978: Defeated by Ariyoshi in close Democratic gubernatorial primary.

1980: Upset in mayorís race by Eileen Anderson, former state budget director.

1982: Forms Independent Democratic party to run for governor, but loses again to Ariyoshi.

1984: Now a Republican, Fasi defeats Eileen Anderson to win back mayorís job.

1988: Defeats Marilyn Bornhorst to win fifth term.

1992: Earns sixth term by beating Democrat Dennis OíConnor.

1994: As head of his own Best party, finishes second to Democrat Ben Cayetano in governorís race.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Frank Fasi

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Long after the dignitaries had left the Honolulu Hale courtyard, the "little guys" that Frank Fasi often spoke so fondly of were still streaming in to see the man they called Mister Mayor.

Punahou area resident Ruth Freedman was among those who stood in line for more than an hour in the midday sun waiting for the formal service to finish so the public could enter city hall to pay their respects.

As they stood in line, strangers became friends as they told their own stories about the man who spent 22 years as Honolulu mayor, a reign that was longer than anyone else's ó and likely won't be repeated, since term limits have been put in place.

Fasi, 89, died Feb. 3 of natural causes. Following the hourlong formal service that ended at around 11 a.m., hundreds of mourners made their way through Honolulu Hale to view the closed casket. Fasi family members insisted on staying by the casket until 6 p.m., to talk with all the well-wishers.

Freedman, who described herself as a big fan of Fasi's, brought with her a framed editorial cartoon of the late mayor that she wanted to give to widow Joyce Fasi and the family.

"He listened to the little guy," Freedman said, pointing out that she's a regular rider of TheBus, one of Fasi's most significant accomplishments.

The first person in line yesterday was Makiki resident Rachelle Shields, who went straight from her graveyard shift at the McCully 7-Eleven to city hall at 7 a.m.

A longtime volunteer of Fasi's campaigns, Shields said it was an occasion she had to attend.

"He tried to do things for the little people. He was a very kind and cordial man," Shields said. "Like how we remember John A. Burns, we will never forget Frank F. Fasi."

Kapolei resident Rocky Paiva said he was a young man when he volunteered in Fasi's triumphant 1984 campaign that returned him to Honolulu Hale.

"I just liked his style, the way he was," Paiva said. "He made things happen for the people and he was someone who would speak his mind."

'SOFTER SIDE'

A majority of those who gathered were older, at least well into their 40s. That's not surprising considering Fasi has not held elective office since 1994.

But there were young people who came to pay their respects, too.

'Aiea resident Barney Ho said he was a teenager when he first got involved in a Fasi campaign because his grandfather, Chinatown businessman Yet Kui Ho, befriended him.

"The mayor taught us a lot, us young voters, to get our voices out there," Ho said. "He taught us if you don't say anything, don't complain."

Toru Hamayasu, the city's deputy director of transportation services, waited in line with his daughter, Tina, a city paramedic.

Hamayasu, a 37-year employee with the city, started off as a traffic engineer who visited the mayor's office often.

Tina Hamayasu would tag along. The first time, when Fasi's dog, Gino, frightened her, the mayor calmed both parties down and made introductions.

"I guess I saw the softer side," Tina Hamayasu said. "As a 4-year-old running around his office, he took care of me."

The Hamayasus weren't the only current or former city employees in line yesterday. Among them was musician George Kuo, whose daytime job the past 30 years has been as a civil engineer with the Honolulu Board of Water Supply's long-range planning section.

"I just wanted to pay my respects to the boss for the last time," Kuo said.

"He was a real people person, who got to know everybody, down to the front lines," he said.

Fasi made it a point to visit city employees in their work environments so he could see what they were doing.

Ka'a'awa resident Haaheo Mansfield said she came to pay respects on behalf of her late father, who insisted on describing himself as an employee of Frank Fasi, not the City & County of Honolulu.

"And he worked in the sewer department! He wasn't in the Cabinet or anything," Mansfield said.

"Mayor Frank Fasi was the mayor of my childhood, the mayor of my young adulthood, so this is the passing of an era," she said.

There was more reminiscing among the 200 invited guests inside the courtyard.

"He was a great leader, full of ideas all the time," said Kazu Hayashida, who served as director of several city agencies during the Fasi years. One of the things he was most fond of was creation of the city's Handi-Van program for the disabled.

"The people used to come up and tell us how much freedom they had," Hayashida said. "Instead of waiting for a family member, they had a Handi-Van system they could call and go to places."

Hayashida said he instituted free bus passes for seniors because he felt they had paid their dues as Honolulu citizens and "and he didn't want them to stay at home, he wanted them to get out."

"He was really a good friend of the lower-income people, he really liked to help them out," said former city councilman Toraki Matsumoto. "We did have fights (between the mayor and the council) sometimes, but they were mostly minor."

Former councilman John DeSoto said he always appreciated Fasi's approach to politics, which he tried to emulate.

"He's always been about 'if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it's a duck,' " DeSoto said. "He's not going to tell you what you want to hear, he's going to tell you how he feels and why he's taking a position."

'HE STOOD TALL'

The hourlong service was reflective but mostly celebratory.

Ed Hirata, a Fasi aide for many years, rattled off a list of Fasi's accomplishments, from open markets to municipal gardens to satellite city halls.

"He wasn't afraid of anyone who stood in the way of his goal to get the job done," Hirata said. "... Mayor Fasi had a propensity for action and he had it in spades. He wanted to get things done and get them done fast."

Mayor Mufi Hannemann said he was privileged to receive advice from Fasi, who told Hannemann that a mayor always has to be available.

"If at the end of the day he felt it was the right thing to do, he would do it," Hannemann said. "... He stood tall always for the people."

Fasi's son Charles began the eulogy by describing his father's hard-scrabble beginning in Hartford, Conn., collecting coal off train tracks, shining shoes and, later in his youth, picking tobacco.

"He never forgot that he once was the little guy," Charles Fasi said. "Despite a learning disability and a stutter, my dad became a straight-A student" and played football, basketball and ran track.

"My dad loved being mayor and there was nothing he wouldn't do if it helped people or his beloved city ó as we say, his 12th child."

Ten of Fasi's 11 children were in attendance, as were most of his 20 grandchildren.

Mid-afternoon, as the crowds dwindled, mourners introduced themselves to some of the younger Fasi family members and talked story with them when they strolled around the courtyard to look at the many photos of the mayor that were on display.

Later, Charles Fasi said his father would have been most appreciative of the throngs who showed up. "My dad would be happy at the people here expressing their love for him and I think that's all he really wanted."

Longtime Royal Hawaiian Band master Aaron Mahi sang "The Impossible Dream" and Melveen Leed did the spiritual "Kanaka Wai Wai."

Danny Kaleikini belted out "My Way" and, for once, the song did not come across as too big for the man described.

At 11 a.m. today, a motorcade carrying Fasi's casket will travel from Nu'uanu Memorial Park & Mortuary onto South King Street to allow Fasi's casket to pass by Honolulu Hale and the Frank F. Fasi Municipal Building.

Advertiser Staff writer Dan Nakaso contributed to this report. Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at gpang@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-80982.