Cover Story continued

Hail to the chief

We didn't ignore the polling completely: These are the three major contenders for the Honolulu mayor's office, and we think all of them deserve a look.

Mufi Hannemann

Eight years ago, as former Mayor Jeremy Harris campaigned for reelection, many observers thought perpetual candidate Mufi Hannemann was sure to at least force a run-off by keeping Harris below 50 percent of primary votes. Harris, despite wide popular approval of his beautification efforts in Waikk, was seen in populous West O’ahu as indifferent to the needs of that increasingly important community. Hannemann had strong union support, but it didn’t happen: Harris won reelection without a run-off, and Hannemann’s long streak of losses in races that mattered seemed likely to stretch on forever. Political wags began to suspect that Mufi might be running out of chances.

What a difference eight years makes. After squeaking into office in 2004 against Duke Bainum, Hannemann has ditched his bridesmaid’s dress and become perhaps the dominant force in Hawai’i politics. The mayor won early raves for his responsible approach to infrastructure–who opens an administration with a tax increase to pay for sewer improvements?– and, on the flip side, has dumped campaign promises to close the Waimanalo Gulch landfill. But who are we kidding? This election is a referendum on rail transit, and to a lesser extent, on the mayor’s handling of the issue. There’s no arguing that Hannemann has brought a strong leadership style to Honolulu Hale. The question is whether or not he’s leading us in the right direction, and whether citizens should have had more of a voice in the process. One thing is certain–after eight years of Harris-led technocracy, Mufi Hannemann is a return to the love-’em-or-hate-’em Honolulu mayoral archetype. If you live west of the Pali, you probably love him. If you live east of there, well…you probably haole-er, hate ‘em.

Policy: Supports $6 billion rail transit plan. Invested heavily in sewer improvements. Ultimately supported efforts to preserve Ppkea-Paumal.

Personal: Was a White House Fellow and an aide to former President George H. W. Bush.

HW wonders: Will Mufi’s committment to West O’ahu pay off, or does the seething resentment felt by many urban and east Honolulu voters bubble to the surface?

Ann Kobayashi

Rumors flew in early summer that veteran Democrat Ann Kobayashi would enter the race for mayor, but she steadfastly denied them. With just hours left before the filing deadline, however, Kobayashi made her move, and in so doing set off what turned out to be the political tempest of the year thus far. House Majority leader Kirk Caldwell filed for Kobayashi’s City Council seat, but Duke Bainum, who disappeared almost entirely from the scene after his 2004 defeat by Hannemann, was the only candidate left standing after the dust settled from the city clerk’s office. Kobayashi’s move seemed calculated, but she insisted–and Democratic insiders, including one with no great passion for Kobayashi’s candidacy, confirmed to Honolulu Weekly–that she did not make her decision until the eve of the deadline.

Now the political mainstay, who previously served in the state Senate, is in for what could turn out to be her last big campaign. She is running what amounts to a single-issue campaign in opposition to Hannemann’s rail plans. Kobayashi has represented District 5, which includes Manoa, and has built a reputation as tough critic of high taxes and a strong supporter of small business and working class issues.

Policy: Favors letting voters decide the fate of rail transit. Supports steep cuts in fees for city services such as sewage and a reduction in the property tax. Supports closure of Waimanalo Gluch.

Personal: Kobayashi attended Brown and Northwestern universities. She grew up near Punchbowl.

HW wonders: Kobayashi is clearly not running a symbolic campaign…she gave up a very safe council seat to be here. Will she garner enough votes to keep Hannemann under 50 percent and force a run-off election?

Panos Prevedouros

The University of Hawai’i engineering professor seemed at first to be a symbolic candidate, but as the summer wore on it became clear that Prevedouros was in it to win it. With no political experience, Prevedourous seems to have generated enthusiasm among the most die-hard anti-rail forces without a great deal of hyperbole or acrimony. He is decidedly against Hannemann’s rail plans, regardless of popular opinion, and believes the answer to choking growth lies in dedicated bus lanes and more thoughtfully constructed roads. Prevedourous is running on a platform of what he calls the “Three T’s”: trash, traffic and taxes. He’s against all of them, and while rail dominates the headlines, Prevedouros is just as passionate about what he calls a 46 percent increase in the cost of government. Prevedorous’ website includes a feature in which he drives around Honolulu documenting examples of decaying infrastructure and offering an engineer’s point of view on how to fix them. Many expected the civil engineer to drop out of the race once Kobayashi made her entry, but he’s hanging tough and even welcomed the company–Prevedourous seems open to any scenario in which Hannemann can be denied a once-off win in the Sept. 3 primary.

Policy: Supports cutting taxes, improving city infrastructure and abandoning plans for rail transit.

Personal: Prevedourous and his fiancee are expecting a child this month.

HW wonders: He’s tenured, right?