Not The End Of The Line For Mufi

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - September 29, 2010

What was behind the drubbing that Neil Abercrombie put on Mufi Hannemann in the primary election? There are many theories, explanations and analyses, but the short answer is it was a rejection of the ex-mayor’s proposals, policies and record.

There are some who are celebrating the efficient, well-run and obviously effective campaign executed by the Abercrombie camp. There is no doubt they did a very able job, and kudos should be given to the candidate and his people.

But, in all fairness, what did Abercrombie bring to the party in regard to an actual record of performance relating to the governor job?

As far as visibility goes, there were Abercrombie sightings here and there, but, for the most part, he was Washington centric.

Hannemann, though, was omnipresent in the state of Hawaii, let alone Honolulu. He reveled in being the one and only leader of the city. It was a given that he controlled a complicit and obsequious majority of the City Council. And he basked in the power. It’s not a small accomplishment to spear-head a controversial multi-billion-dollar public-works project like rail without expending and exerting substantial political muscle.

Although he has logged decades of public service, Abercrombie was able to position himself as a newcomer. The truth is, a vast majority of people haven’t a clue as to what he has been up to in Washington, D.C. The strategy worked. Plus, his handlers did a great job of toning Abercrombie down. His signature bellowing vocals and animated “pounding from the pulpit” performances were replaced with a, dare I say, a fatherly persona. He even looked downright gubernatorial.

The other reasons proffered why Abercrombie won so big? It was a closed Democratic primary and Hannemann is far from a traditional Democratic candidate. Abercrombie is. The missteps in Hannemann’s campaign were devastating. For many, the “I look like you, you look like me” comment and the dreaded “Compare and Decide” flier were reminders to those who just plain don’t like him.

Were there GOP voters who crossed over and voted for Abercrombie? Maybe. But I am certain those numbers were negligible. Hannemann was, and is, the face of the rail project. Remember, tens of thousands voted against rail two years ago, and those numbers may have risen. A vote against Hannemann was a vote against rail.

In defense of Hannemann, as mayor he lorded over one of the worst economic periods our community has ever seen. He had to deal with a federal consent decree pertaining to waste water, and he had to divert millions of gallons of raw sewage into the Ala Wai Canal. He was tasked with upgrading infrastructure that is far from the public eye, and he wrestled with trash dispensation, either by landfill or exportation. He had a defined record to defend, and Abercrombie came in, fresh as a daisy, with no accountability at the local level.

At the end of the day, voters simply believed Hannemann didn’t do a great job as mayor and wouldn’t do a great job as governor. Since there was a more palatable alternative, they went with the “new guy.”

Finally, it would be a mistake to think this is the end of Hannemann’s political career. He publicly handled his loss with class and humility. That goes a long way in Hawaii. I would look for him to emerge in a media environment, with a regular presence on radio or TV. He may pursue a leadership position within the Democratic Party to get his partisan chops back. He might work in D.C. to network and gain some institutional knowledge that would be useful in the future. If he keeps his visibility up and reinvents himself into a statesman in his downtime, he will be a force to reckon with in races to come.

Sen. Akaka, have you taken his call yet?

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