Powerful ILWU gives nod to mayor
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
In a coup for his campaign, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union yesterday endorsed Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann for governor, a powerful message that could help the mayor build momentum in the state's influential labor community.
The ILWU has a rich tradition in Democratic politics in the Islands, and while its influence may have waned with the emergence of public-sector labor unions as a political force, its endorsement is coveted.
Isaac Fiesta Jr., president of ILWU Local 142, described the decision as difficult because former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, Hannemann's rival in the Democratic primary, is known as a strong union advocate.
"It was a very difficult decision, as both Neil and Mufi would make excellent governors. Both of them have solid records of service, commitment and accomplishment that have improved life for the people of Hawai'i," Fiesta said at a news conference with Hannemann at the ILWU's Atkinson Drive headquarters.
"Both of them have a lot to offer in their experience and leadership."
The leaders of the ILWU, the state's largest private-sector union with 20,000 members, interviewed both candidates on March 2 and chose to back the mayor.
"Mufi has the vision, the ability, to put Hawai'i back on the right track," Fiesta said.
Hannemann, who has not officially announced his campaign but has been actively raising money and meeting with voters state-wide, said the endorsement is a "strong nudge" to enter the race soon.
"The state needs leadership now. The state, in many ways, is broken. It has to be fixed," Hannemann said. "And it's going to take a leader who has a collaborative style to bring the parties together. A governor who will work with the Neighbor Island mayors and the mayor of Honolulu.
"A governor who can bring Democrats, as well as Republicans and independents, to the table. Business. Management. And, of course, working men and women."
Hannemann also referred to his executive experience as mayor, a contrast with Abercrombie's background as a lawmaker.
"I think what is setting me apart thus far in this race over my two very worthy opponents is the extensive executive experience that I bring to this job," he said of Abercrombie and Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, a Republican candidate.
Abercrombie, who announced yesterday that he had secured the endorsement of three locals of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said the ILWU endorsement shows there is division in the labor movement.
The former congressman again called on Hannemann to remain as mayor to keep Honolulu's mass transit project on track. He warned that the rail project would be at risk if the mayor resigns to run for governor.
"The issue is far too big to be revolving around the political fortunes of any particular individual, myself or anybody else," Abercrombie said at the IBEW headquarters in Kalihi.
Rather than be a collaborator, Abercrombie said Hannemann has been locked in a "kind of caged death match" with Gov. Linda Lingle over rail. Lingle has said she wants to thoroughly review the project's environmental impact statement and conduct an independent analysis of the financial plan.
"Maybe we need to get B.J. Penn in to referee," Abercrombie said.
Abercrombie said a project as big as rail is bound to have difficulties and should not be on a political time-table.
"You can't just walk away. You can't just leave, because, all of sudden, your political calendar tells you it's time to go," he said.
Lance Miyake, the business agent for the IBEW Local 1260, said one of the reasons the union backed Abercrombie is that the former congressman, unlike the mayor, has committed to serving as governor for two four-year terms.
Miyake said the mayor has not finished what he asked the union to help him do, "which is get this rail project going."
One influence in the ILWU endorsement, according to two sources familiar with the interviews, was whether Hannemann and Abercrombie would support state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa in the May special election to fill out Abercrombie's term in urban Honolulu's 1st Congressional District.
The ILWU, U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye and U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka have endorsed Hanabusa over former U.S. Rep. Ed Case, a Democrat, and Honolulu Councilman Charles Djou, a Republican. Hannemann, according to sources, agreed to side with Inouye and Akaka in favor of Hanabusa; Abercrombie stayed neutral.
Jonah Ka'auwai, the state GOP chairman, said the union endorsements mean Hannemann and Abercrombie would be beholden to union leaders.
"The people of Hawai'i pay for these special-interest endorsements; they do not come free," Ka'auwai said in a statement. "Union-endorsed candidates are beholden to the agenda of special interests rather than the interest of the people."
Aiona, in a statement, said he hopes to compete for rank-and-file union voters. "Our campaign's strength is based on statewide grassroots support, because it is only through our working families and small businesses that we will bring balance, integrity and good judgment to state government," he said.