Oh, to be a fly on the wall in Mayor Alan Arakawa’s 9th Floor county office today. You guys saw The Maui News’ huge front-page story yesterday on the dramatic Mar. 5, 2013 meeting at Starbucks in Kahului between then-Maui Film Commissioner Harry Donenfeld (who secretly recorded the meeting because he was worried about his job) and three key aides to Mayor Alan Arakawa: Managing Director Keith Regan, Chief of Staff Herman Andaya and Communications Director Rod Antone. It’s quite the tale of power and influence, concerning the Maui Film Studio (the island’s first locally financed and run film studio, which has since gone out of business) and big-time Hollywood producer Ryan Kavanaugh’s Relativity Media (which recently declared bankruptcy).
Apparently Donenfeld hasn’t been shy about playing the recording for the media, because I recently had a listen to it myself (I also have a written transcript of the meeting, which is a little over an hour long). I first heard of the recording’s existence back in October 2013, but it was only recently that I actually got to hear it myself.
Had The Maui News’ story come out in 2014, it might have actually played a role in Mayor Arakawa’s re-election that year. But it didn’t, because Donenfeld chose not to release the tape then (he told me that he didn’t want to hurt Arakawa’s reelection chances). Months ago, Donenfeld even posted snippets of the recording on his Facebook page, so I can’t believe anyone on the 9th Floor was truly shocked by its sudden appearance on the front page of The Maui News.
But here’s the thing: Arakawa’s a lame duck. The tape shows a crass, cynically political administration that tries to strong-arm Donenfeld because he wouldn’t line up behind Kavanaugh, their Daddy Warbucks campaign contributor, but it doesn’t show anything that would lead to an indictment. The Maui News directed its story at Arakawa, which is odd because he’s not running for office again.
But Keith Regan, Arakawa’s managing director, is right now this second running for office–for the County Council seat currently being held by Mike Victorino (who’s termed out and can’t run again in 2016). Strangely, incredibly, the story–though more than 3,000 words long–makes zero mention of this fact.
And Keith Regan comes off badly in the meeting–like a mix between H.R. Haldeman, Richard Nixon’s amoral hatchetman Chief of Staff (or for your kids who get your political knowledge from television, Doug Stamper in House of Cards) and Fred Rogers. At first you’re scared, but then you remember that he’s just Keith Regan.
In the meeting, Regan, Antone and Andaya sort of come off as mafia enforcers, but the fact that they’re just political appointees eliminates any potential fear factor. Sure, they brace Donenfeld for over an hour, trying to convince him to play ball their way, but while they certainly mouth the tough guy talk, they obviously lack the cold brutality of an actual wiseguy.
Their aims–which they make ridiculously explicit–are for Donenfeld to do what’s best for Alan Arakawa’s upcoming re-election, even if that means selling out the brand-new Maui Film Studio (which Big Money Kavanaugh sees as a threat to a pending tax credit bill in the Legislature):
REGAN: “Ultimately, I think what Rod is saying is that our primary goal above all else is to get the mayor re-elected. Nothing else really matters because if the mayor is not re-elected none of us have jobs. Let’s be very frank. We’re all political. We’re very connected to the mayor. If he loses, we lose, our families lose, those who depend on us lose. I think you need to understand where we’re all coming from.”
Remember that Regan’s not an actual mafiosi, of course, but he could still get Donenfeld booted from the administration (which, it turns out, happened six or seven months after the meeting). Then, near the end of the meeting (and I can’t believe The Maui News didn’t include this part in their story), Regan, Andaya and Antone suddenly have to deal with Donenfeld’s revelation that he has multiple TV interviews scheduled to talk about the dreaded Maui Film Studio. But Keith Regan–who now wants a seat on the Maui County Council–straight up tells Donenfeld to get out of one interview by just pretending to be sick:
REGAN: “Too bad you’re sick. You’re not feeling well. Maybe we can reschedule the interview… to next week.”
County spokesperson Rod Antone–whose job is to be the voice of the Arakawa Administration, agreed. “There’s always that,” he said.
As Regan had already lectured Donenfeld earlier in the meeting, stuff like this is necessary because you just have to win:
REGAN: “Herman and I have been through this. We’ve been through working for the mayor, working hard for the mayor, doing everything we thought was right to get the mayor re-elected. Lo and behold, we get slapped in the face and get beaten by Grandma [Charmaine Tavares]. All the while, we thought we were doing the right stuff which obviously we weren’t. We’re not going to make that mistake a second time… Everything that we’ve been doing up and to this point has been about getting him reelected.”
Regan’s casual reference to Tavares as “Grandma” is touching, isn’t it? And note his use of the term “the right stuff”–he’s talking about what’s needed to ensure reelection, not necessarily what’s best for the county as a whole.
But Regan could be humble on the recording–oh, so humble you’ll want to throw up:
REGAN: “I’ve had the mayor tell me, straight to my face, ‘It’s not about you. It’s about me.’ He’s told me that in private. I respect that because he’s right.”
In the world of Richard Nixon (and even Frank Underwood), this kind of talk of being a selfless cog in a political machine can be high drama. But in Small Town Maui, it’s just pathetic–for both Arakawa and Regan. If we’re talking opening diplomatic relations to China, or stopping a Middle East war, sure, by all means–let The Guy In Charge take the credit. But big political success out here translates into getting a sewage plant built or a park dedicated. Regan is bending down on one knee and kissing Arakawa’s ring for that?
In a word, yes. That’s the price people pay for access to power in big government and small. And I know, we shouldn’t be surprised that people who make their living in politics talk this way when they think no one in the real world is listening. But here’s the new reality created by this recording: no matter what else Keith Regan says or promises–either as Arakawa’s managing director or in his quest to represent Wailuku, Waihee and Waiehu on the County Council–everyone now has every right to wonder for the next 13 months whether he’s doing so because it’s the best for the county, or for his own personal ambitions.
Photo courtesy Keith Regan campaign