The Man Was Meant To Be Mayor
Wednesday - February 10, 2010
Everyone has a Frank Fasi story. I’m old enough to have several.
I first interviewed Mayor Fasi in 1978. He was running for governor, and his secretary told me that the mayor would meet me at a coffee shop in the old Alexander Young Hotel. Fasi met friends there every morning for breakfast and palaver.
Upon arrival, Fasi barely acknowledged my presence. He nodded me to a chair and went on with the conversation. Twenty minutes later (20 minutes that seemed like two hours to a novice journalist), Frank’s friends dispersed and he granted me my interview.
I was unnerved by the wait and Fasi’s inattention. Before I could ask a question, the mayor launched into an attack on the Hawaii Newspaper Agency’s “monopoly,” more delicately known in statute as its “joint operating agreement.” No one had told him that I was a freelance writer working on a story for Honolulu Magazine, so I took Frank’s heat.
He thoroughly intimidated me, and I ended up asking the mayor some of the softest questions in the history of local journalism.
Fasi lost that race for governor, as he had lost a gubernatorial race in 1974 and would lose subsequent bids for the governorship in 1982, 1994 and 1998.
His first run as mayor also ended in 1980 when, with the support of the Ariyoshi wing of the Democratic party, Eileen Anderson defeated Fasi in his bid for re-election.
That election season I was working on another story for Honolulu, this one titled “The Making of the Mayor 1980.” Anderson proved cooperative. Fasi wouldn’t return my calls, so
I interviewed his friends, one of his daughters, and a few former employees. Frank lost.
The next day I received a call from the mayor; he would grant me an interview. Fasi was not in a good mood, and he shrugged off a question about why he would not speak to me during the campaign. Finally I asked, “Will you run again for public office?”
Fasi glared across the desk, “You wouldn’t have been allowed in here if I weren’t.”
I had not been enamored of Fasi prior to that 1980 campaign. Most of the Democrats I knew came from the John A. Burns camp of Hawaii’s democracy, and they did not heap praise on Frank.
But, on primary election night 1980, I’d stopped first at Fasi headquarters. The crowd was ethnically and economically very mixed; many of them appeared to be the “little guys” the mayor always championed - with bus passes, community gardens, satellite city halls and more.
Anderson led on the first print-out, so I drove to her headquarters. There a former Burns aide did a little jig in the parking lot. “I didn’t think we’d ever beat him,” he said. “It’s a great night.”
Later I talked to three women who’d been active in the Anderson campaign. I said something about the number of poorer folk I’d seen at Fasi’s headquarters - about how they obviously saw Frank as their voice in government. “Oh, Dan,” said one of the women, who would subsequently take a position in the Anderson administration, “the poor will always be with us.”
With that remark, I became something of a Fasi man.
Four years later, after another unsuccessful run for governor, Fasi - running as a Republican this time - defeated Anderson and returned to City Hall. There he remained until 1994, when he made his last, unsuccessful run for governor.
Fasi made a final, now non-partisan run for mayor in 2004. In the eyes of many, he was too old and too many times the loser to be taken seriously. Besides, in Mufi Hannemann and Duke Bainum he faced two formidable opponents.
That fall I moderated a debate among the three of them at the Japanese Chamber of Commerce. Frank showed his age, of course, and he’d certainly lost more elections than he’d won. But he was full of ideas, and I think he reminded everyone in the room of why Honolulu’s voters had made the title “Mayor” and the name “Frank Fasi” synonymous. For some of us, they always will be.
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