By far the most dramatic moment during the July 10, 2006 mayoral forum sponsored by the Wailuku Community Association happened near the end. It was the last portion of the program, in which each of the nine candidates could ask one other candidate any question of his or her choosing. After a few candidates asked polite questions of each other, it was Councilman Dain Kane’s turn.
Standing on the Little Shop of Horrors set at the Iao Theater stage with the rest of the mayoral field, Kane reached into a hat and drew current Mayor Alan Arakawa’s number. The audience—obviously familiar with the often public animosity between the two officials—let out a collective gasp.
“Don’t worry!” Kane said, smiling. “I’m not going to be mean.” But after a thoughtful pause, Kane proceeded to ask the incumbent mayor a long and particularly nasty question.
Kane said that Arakawa had been quoted in a Maui News article from late March as saying that the homeless people who had lived on the Kahului Breakwater until police and county health officials removed them could eventually return after the place had been cleaned up. But, Kane said, he recently noticed that there were barriers at the breakwater now preventing their return. When could those people go back to the breakwater, Kane asked, clearly implying that Arakawa had brutally tossed poor, homeless souls onto the cold, cold street.
His face utterly expressionless, Arakawa—wearing a bright red aloha shirt—stepped forward. Then he gave a slightly technical, slightly patronizing answer about how people could return, but not leave their junked cars.
It was great political theater, considering the primary election doesn’t happen until Sept. 23, with the general election occurring two months later on Nov. 7. Much has been said about the fact that there were nine mayoral hopefuls at the WCA forum, but one longtime political observer told me after the event that he actually wished there were more choices.
But what choices there are:
•Dain Kane, a former teacher, current County Councilman from Wailuku and father of the county’s unusual, pretty much unworkable restaurant smoking ban;
•Charmaine Tavares, the daughter of the late Mayor Hannibal Tavares and former county parks department head who struggled to give a reason for her candidacy when she announced she was running for mayor;
•James “Kimo” Apana, the developer-friendly former mayor who long ago mastered the crucial art of talking and talking but never really saying anything.
And those are just the “experienced” challengers. Realtor Harold “Hap” Miller of Kihei also wants the Kalana O Maui building’s ninth-floor office. So does Vietnam Veterans of Maui president Bill Stroud. As does “Princess” Lehuanani Aquino, Hana activist John Blumer-Buell and trucker Nelson Waikiki.
Then there’s Alan Arakawa. He’s the incumbent mayor, in power since his upset 2002 election. On his shoulders rests a $445 million county government. He merits special attention.
“It says something that eight people are running against him,” one longtime observer of Maui politics told me. Something certainly, though no one’s really sure what.
Are people genuinely dissatisfied with Arakawa’s actions as mayor? Or is he merely perceived as being vulnerable?
I spoke with half a dozen longtime Maui political watchers in preparation for this story, and each one had a different take on whether Arakawa deserved reelection. Some focused on his personality; others saw meaning in his speeches. All agreed his actions were a mix of good and bad.
But what politician doesn’t have a mixed record? Richard Nixon may have sat atop one of the most brazen criminal conspiracies in Washington history, but he also created the Environmental Protection Agency.
For what it’s worth, here are my thoughts on Arakawa’s performance and reelection bid; my assessment, if you will, of the mayor’s more noteworthy actions and statements. Like him or hate him, you’ve got to admit he’s an interesting guy.
Born in Wailuku in 1951, Arakawa went right to work in his family’s Kula farm. After graduating from Maui High, he studied business at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. There he met Ann Matsui, who he eventually married. A mathematics teacher at Maui Community College, she is unquestionably his top political and policy adviser.
Going to work for the county in 1984, Arakawa eventually worked his way up to Wastewater Treatment Plant Supervisor. Elected to the Maui County Council in 1994, 1996 and 2000, Arakawa ran for mayor in 1998. He lost to Apana by 2,249 votes, but came back four years later and squeaked by the wiley, extremely well funded incumbent by just 1,103 votes.
On Jan. 12 of this year, Arakawa delivered his annual State of the County Address. The speech closely followed Arakawa’s Report on the County of Maui, which also came out in January.
They are extraordinary documents for any politician. Densely packed with nearly 200 “highlights” that Arakawa in some way or another assisted, acquired, completed, sponsored, expanded, awarded, upgraded or opened, they reiterate in often mind-numbing detail just about everything policy-wise that went on during his term of office. As a report, the document is sharp and informative. As a speech, it came off as insufferably dull, comparable to a corporate CEO reading straight from his company’s annual report. Or his shopping list.
“What’s also clear… [the elipses appear in the mayor’s official transcript of the speech, denoting pauses] is that we have made serious headway on each of these items,” Arakawa told the crowd. “And we’ve done so… through a systematic adherence to our community’s stated goals… and applying them to the identification… development… and shaping of Maui County’s policies and goals.”
And therein lies the paradox of Alan Arakawa. Highly intelligent and technically capable, Arakawa is also a plodding public speaker prone to monotone pronouncements.
Effusively polite, the slightest disagreement with his policies can bring on a cranky lecture. At an Aug. 31, 2005 meeting in the Waikapu Community Center, Arakawa blasted the Maui Redevelopment Authority for “dragging its feet” on Wailuku revitalization in front of dozens of residents and activists.
In late 2003, I sat down with Arakawa in his office. I naively tried to break the ice by comparing my rookie status as Maui Time editor to his job, which he’d held barely a year. Focusing his eyes on me, he proceeded to rattle off his extensive experience at the county and on the council.
Even his fans say he lacks Apana’s effusive backslapping charm and Tavares’ relaxed style. He’s a rarity in American political life—an efficient technocrat who somehow managed to get elected to office. Not only does Arakawa understand this, but he boasts about it in his campaign materials.
“When he became Mayor,” boasts Arakawa’s reelection website, “he promised to be a manager, instead of an Emcee.”
Reading over Arakawa’s voluminous lists of accomplishments, many of which involve tens of thousands of dollars in spending for health care and social services, it’s easy to forget he’s a Republican. He created the post of Maui County Environmental Coordinator—a countywide point man for all things flora and fauna—then named Rob Parsons—one of his 2002 mayoral opponents—to the job.
Arakawa’s administration mandated the use of B-20 biodiesel fuel in county vehicles. In May 2005, Arakawa joined 131 other mayors nationwide in promising to adhere to the Kyoto Protocol limiting greenhouse emissions.
“I’m hoping it sends a message they really need to start looking at what’s really happening in the real world,” he told The New York Times.
Arakawa’s people sent a temporary pump-out truck to Ma’alaea Harbor so commercial tour boats wouldn’t have to dump their sewage into Hawaiian waters anymore. And they formed the Mayor’s Cruise Ship Task Force, which issued a blistering report in 2005 criticizing the anarchical world in which sewage-dumping cruise ships operate throughout Hawai’i.
The Arakawa Administration also “processed more than 8,603 building permits and addressed 2,789 Requests for Services.” It also “cleaned more than 1,600 storm drains,” according to his own list of accomplishments.
Notice the fascination with sewage? I guess old habits die hard.
Arakawa’s also taking credit for the county’s bus service—he even appears in Maui Bus TV spots welcoming riders aboard—but it’s hard to get excited about a service that has so few buses and routes that someone wishing to travel from Wailuku to Ka’anapali needs to change buses three times. Plus, they don’t run on Sundays.
Arakawa likes to say the parks department is in great shape, and boasts that his administration has acquired the Wailuku Pool and Waihee Ball Park as well as “formed” the Kalama Park Action Team that sent “citizen patrols” into that troubled Kihei park. But after you visit a few county parks throughout the island, it’s easy to see that a lot more could be done.
In the old days, the mayor filled county boards and commissions using the standby patronage system—one of his or her aides would simply call someone connected to the mayor and ask what board he or she wanted. But Arakawa changed that, setting up a special commission that gathers and reviews applicants from all over the county.
Arakawa’s Planning Department fought against developer Kent Smith’s insane Pu’unoa Project in 2003, which would have built hundreds of homes and dumped hundreds more cars at the southern entrance to Lahaina. Yet the department has also sat by as developers put in luxury estate after luxury estate on the Launiupoko agricultural lands.
Arakawa briefly flirted with moving the county hall of administration to Waikapu, and lobbied hard to buy One Main Plaza in Wailuku, but abandoned both efforts after intense opposition from the County Council. At the same time, he poked and prodded the Maui Redevelopment Authority into focusing for the first time in a long time on looking at Wailuku Town revitalization.
There’s no question traffic island-wide has gotten worse in the last few years. And why shouldn’t it have? The county Planning Department has been recommending approval for huge commercial, hotel and residential projects. Fears articulated four years ago that Arakawa would slap a moratorium on development permits proved gloriously misguided, even though the state continues to insist that major highway improvements—especially in West Maui, where the majority of growth is taking place—remain at least a decade away.
But traffic pales before the issue of water. There are very real questions about where all this new development—and a host of projects still awaiting approval—will get the water they need. No one running for mayor has yet given a compelling answer on that one.
In fact, given the problems facing Maui today—or “challenges,” if you prefer campaign-speak—it’s a wonder anyone dared sit on the Iao Theater stage the night of July 10.
On May 2 of this year, Arakawa returned to Maui from a 14-day “goodwill mission” to the Philippines. His delegation included 102 people, including his wife Ann, numerous county officials, Maui Filipino Community Council members and Mrs. Maui Filipina 2006 Myrna Baggao Breen.
While in the Philippines, Arakawa and his entourage toured Maui’s sister cities. They also met numerous elected officials, including Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Shortly after the trip ended and Arakawa returned to Maui, Lynn Araki-Regan sent out a typically breathless press release that, for whatever reason, included the news that “Mayor Arakawa helped others get their luggage off the [Kahului Airport] carousel before getting his own.”
Arakawa’s administration has often mixed global awareness with an attitude sometimes more reminiscent of Mayberry than Maui.
For instance, Arakawa hasn’t held a lot of press conferences as mayor. He’s got his show on Akaku public access cable, where he interviews other county officials and department heads each week, but he rarely gathers the media for official announcements. But on May 16, 2006, Arakawa held a big press conference in the Mayor’s Lounge, a large room just off his own office offering expansive views of Wailuku, Kahului, Paia and Upcountry.
Arakawa hadn’t yet made official his desire to run for reelection, but it was widely expected to be imminent (it came a month later). In any case, it was obvious that such a press conference would be the perfect opportunity to set the tone for his campaign.
Shortly after 9 a.m., Arakawa walked into the lounge ahead of 11 county, corporate and community leaders—including uniformed police officers and one deputy prosecuting attorney—and stood behind a lectern. Then before a crowd that included representatives from all of Maui papers, the former wastewater treatment plant supervisor denounced litter in all its forms.
“This is an issue that absolutely needs to be addressed,” he said. “It’s a problem that has been creeping up on us for quite some time.”
Arakawa said in no uncertain terms that littering on Maui needed to stop. He wanted to “really focus on this issue” and “develop a program to eradicate litter.”
Each of the 11 people standing behind Arakawa—all members of the Mayor’s Anti-Litter Task Force—spoke in turn about his or her part in the war on trash. The police would start cracking down on anyone caught littering; radio stations and newspapers would run new anti-littering advertisements; schools would get new anti-litter posters and teaching materials; county officials would bring the hammer down on those responsible for dumping cars on the roadside.
In short, it was exactly the kind of overall, systemic approach to a problem that a technocrat like Arakawa would excel at. Except instead of directed at future water availability, traffic or environmental degradation, it’s about litter.
“As you can see, this is an area we’re taking very seriously,” Arakawa said after everyone had finished. “Litter is not funny. It’s not a joke. This is not going to be acceptable behavior. There is no justification or reason for all the litter that’s strewn about our county.” MTW