There is an obvious reason why no mayor of Honolulu ever becomes governor of Hawaii.
Every voter on Oahu (where the most votes are) remembers if the mayor did not fix the big pothole on his or her street, even after several calls to City Hall.
Every Oahu voter remembers if the grass and the restrooms in his or her neighborhood park went into decline.
And then there is familiarity. The mayor deals with Neighborhood Boards and tries to tamp down neighborhood squabbles over beach access, unleashed dogs and district homelessness. City voters say “no way I gonna vote for for him [her]. He [she] is pilau.”
The late Frank Fasi kept a grip on the mayor’s office but was rejected for governor. He gave us great bus service but voters suspected he had taken Kukui Plaza kickbacks and was saved from prison only because developer Hal Hansen took an oath of silence and went to prison without saying to whom he gave the kickback money.
Linda Lingle was elected governor but she was Maui County’s mayor. We on Oahu knew little about what she’d done or not done. Besides, former Gov. John Waihee, a Democrat, had earlier been booed at the Waikiki Shell for blowing our rainy day fund and we had another Democrat governor, Ben Cayetano. Lingle was a Republican. Voters were ready for a change.
Mayor Mufi Hannemann went for governor in 2010 but lost to Neil Abercrombie in the primary. Was smashed by Tulsi Gabbard in his second go (after also losing to Abercrombie) for Congress. People had started souring on the train project, Chinatown homeless, and some even said he was too tall!
I mention all this because I’m curious why Kirk Caldwell, Honolulu’s mayor and announced governor candidate for 2022, would try to break the curse.
It’s not as if he’s wildly popular. He had to be community-wide-challenged before he’d go back on his Ala Moana Park playground project, his Waimanalo Park (Sherwood Forest) ballfields and parking lot project went south after image-damaging protests, and he remains haunted by the train costs and damage to merchants along Dillingham Boulevard. Now the virus damage to local business and our financial situation.
He would have to overcome the head-start of Lt. Gov. Josh Green in a race that sometimes sometimes has given our lieutenant governors a leg up in elections. But to for everyone. Those who did not rise to #1 are Jimmy Kealoha, Tom Gill, William Richardson, Nelson Doi, Jean King, Duke Aiona and Mazie Hirono.
In a reverse scenario of the usual movement, former Gov. Ben Cayetano ran for Honolulu mayor in 2012 after he was termed out of the State Capitol. He lost big time.
If there was ever a mayor who might have been a popularly-elected governor it was Neal Blaisdell, a Republican who played footsie with Hawaii’s rising Democratic leadership after statehood.
“Rusty” Blaisdell was extraordinarily popular from the start to his finish in politics in 1969. He beat out Frank Fasi in 1955. He built the Wilson Tunnel and the International Center at Ward and Kapiolani which now bears his name — Fasi promoted that name change.
But he died in 1975 without even thinking about running for governor. He’d had health problems for much of his late life, including pneumonia which sidelined him early in his political aspirations.
There’s a reasonable chance that Colleen Hanabusa could win this years mayor’s race. She has a history here as State Senate president and congresswoman. If she were to win, would she dump out two years into City Hall to run for governor? That wouldn’t sit well with most voters. But …
“No,” she told me. “This [the mayor job] would be it for me.”
I should have replied: “Historically, a very wise decision.”