BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – Mufi Hannemann, a Democrat who served as mayor of Oahu for 6 years, will run for the House seat being vacated by Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii).
Hannemann made his announcement via twitter this morning. He wrote simply: “Pleased to announce that I am running for the U.S. House to represent Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District” and he provided a link to his new web site: https://vote.mufihannemann.org/
On the homepage, Hannemann said: “Now, more than ever, our nation and state need to put people back to work and revitalize our economy. Public officials at the federal, state, and local levels are beset by debt crises and partisan conflict over the direction of fiscal policy. We can agree that the best way to deal with our fiscal woes is economic growth, but there seems to be very little sustained effort directed at stimulating job growth.”
He also emphasized his thoughts on federal policy: “Just as important as putting people to work is preserving Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, providing more federal funding for education, and protecting our environment, goals that can be better addressed with a strong economy. Those in Congress who seek to slash help for seniors, the needy, and our children, instead of offering incentives and ideas for economic growth, do a disservice to the institution and their fellow citizens. For Hawaii in particular, we must ensure a strong defense, champion the aspirations of the Hawaiian people, and bring the Pacific region to the forefront of American foreign policy.”
But Hannemann’s assertion that he has a “track record of bringing people together in the spirit of bipartisanship” has many people interviewed by Hawaii Reporter about this announcement in strong disagreement.
“My impression is the exact opposite,” said University of Hawaii Law Professor Randall Roth, who is known for his books on corruption in Hawaii government and of abuse involving the state’s largest non-profit, Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate.
Several Republican, conservative and environmentalists who supported Hannemann in his 2004 mayoral run were disappointed in his lack of leadership on the rail issue. Hannemann aggressively pushed through a 20-mile, $5.5 billion, steel on steel rail project for Honolulu – the largest public works project in Hawaii’s history – that is opposed by a wide variety of community leaders and groups. The rub, say those opposing the project, is Hannemann did so without considering other less costly and more environmentally and culturally friendly transportation alternatives as he promised to do.
The city is now being sued by several prominent community leaders and environmental groups – including Randall Roth – for Hannemann’s handling of the issue.
“To me, Mufi Hannemann has a talk down, always be in control mentality that does not bring people together. Instead he communicates that you must get on board with what he wants or there is no room for you in Mufi’s world. I am embarrassed to say that I voted for Mufi and I was profoundly disappointed,” Roth said.
In his statement, Hannemann maintains that his run for Congressional District 2, which largely includes the neighbor islands, is where his support is. That may be so, even though he lives on Oahu in Congressional District 1 and spent 6 years on the Honolulu City Council and 6 years as Honolulu mayor.
Democrats on Oahu turned on Hannemann in the 2010 Democratic gubernatorial primary and what little support he had came from the neighbor islands. Statewide, Democrats supported former Congressman Neil Abercrombie with 59.3 percent of the vote over Hannemann who received 37.7 percent of the vote. Abercrombie won 221 of 242 precincts across the state – all but one on Oahu.
The media reported the primary election as a “blowout.” Hannemann’s divisive direct mail campaigns and his seemingly pro-local, anti Caucasian statements that targeted Abercrombie added to the public’s discontent. Many people criticized Hannemann of being a bully and a racist. Even some union leaders turned on Hannemann saying they wanted him to stay mayor, rather than leave two years early, so he could ensure the rail project was built.
Democrats were unhappy that Hannemann seemed to be too eager to hang out with – and be photographed with – President Barack Obama. Hannemann was even written up in the national news – including one of the nation’s most prestigious political magazines, Politico, for his mad crush.
Politico writes: “Hannemann has been so unabashed in his efforts to see and be seen with the president that it’s become a local joke. Eyes rolled across Honolulu when he recently introduced a proposal to change the name of a park that’s long been known as Magic Island to The President Barack Obama Beach Park at Magic Island. The signature photo on his Twitter page is one of him and Obama. And the 55-year-old loves telling people about the time then-Sen. Obama once called him one of the country’s best mayors.”
Politico and other national news sources also documented Hannemann’s unsuccessfully effort to visit the president while he and his family enjoyed a day at Hanauma Bay.
“When Hannemann showed up at Hanauma Bay, the city park where Obama was snorkeling during his recent holiday vacation, no one was surprised. The mayor also appeared at the Honolulu Zoo shortly after the Obama family arrived, anointed himself their tour guide and made it into all their photographs. Hannemann explained that he rushed over to Hanauma Bay after Obama got there only so he could get his parks manager down to the shore, not himself,” Politico reported.
There was speculation that Hannemann was attempting to neutralize Obama so that the president would not take a position in the governor’s race and endorse Abercrombie. Abercrombie has known Obama throughout his lifetime and was friends with Obama’s father.
Hannemann, who was named president and CEO of the Hawaii Hotel & Lodging Association, the state’s largest private trade organization of hotels and tourism-related businesses, after he lost the gubernatorial primary, kept his announcement light today, not addressing the past. He said he is entering the race because “people have been urging me to ‘get back in the game’ and ‘return to public office.’”
Though he is arguably the most well known candidate in the race, Hannemann will take on Tulsi Gabbard, a sitting Honolulu City Council member and former state legislator, who has volunteered to serve in the Middle East twice with the Hawaii National Guard.
Unlike Hannemann, Gabbard has no political or personal baggage.
She was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal for her military service and still serves in the guard as a captain.
Her only discussion of her personal life was when earlier this year, she quietly announced that she had been divorced and was returning to her maiden name, Gabbard.
Gabbard, who is from a well known politically active family, is a Democrat who worked for U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka. She was the youngest person ever elected to Hawaii’s legislature, and in fact, the youngest woman in U.S. history elected to a state office.
Today she announced six unions that have come out to support her candidacy – the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1186 (IBEW 1186); International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1260 (IBEW 1260); International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers, Local 132; Plumbers and Fitters, Local 675; Boilermakers Union Local 627; and Elevator Constructors Union, Local 126.
While Hannemann has enjoyed the quiet support of U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye in the past election, Hawaii’s senior senator so far has not taken a public stance on Hannemann’s candidacy in this election.