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Jeremy Harris is long gone but his unsold books live on

By Lee Cataluna

LAST UPDATED: 2:14 a.m. HST, Sep 28, 2010

When Mayor Jeremy Harris published his vanity piece "The Renaissance of Honolulu" in 2004, there were vehement assurances from his administration that all profit from the sale of the book would be returned to the city's general fund.

That assumed the book would be profitable, a big assumption in the book world and a bigger assumption in the world of political publishing.

Initial reaction was widespread eye-rolling. We could see just where this was heading. Boxes of unsold books published with taxpayer money sitting in some Honolulu Hale closet catching mold and spiders while Harris was ... someplace else.

Six years later, Harris has all but disappeared from public life, which no one would have predicted in 2004, but the books are right where we thought they'd be.

In July, Curtis Lum reported in Pacific Business News that the city still had boxes of unsold books sitting in storage and was trying to sell them at auction along with other typical unusable city property like banged-up police cars and rusty desks. Last week, PBN reported that no one had put in a bid and that the 440 books might be donated to the Hawaii Library System, which has enough struggles without having to warehouse a used-to-be politician's softcover folly.

On the Net:

» | "The Renaissance of Honolulu"

If you've forgotten the plot of this pseudofictional piece, it's that the city of Honolulu was mired in ugly, energy-sucking, unmaintained infrastructure until Harris came in as mayor in 1994, and by 2004 he had set things straight.

Take, for instance, the lightbulbs in City Hall. Before Harris they were regular light bulbs. Harris changed those to energy-efficient fluorescents. While he was at it, he revitalized Waikiki, built the Waipio Soccer Complex, stenciled a bunch of storm drains and proclaimed the city sustainable.

There's nothing inherently wrong about government publishing a book, or even paying for it with taxpayer money. The questions in this project arose from the timing of the book, set to be released as Harris was leaving office, which made it seem like he was equipping himself with something to hand out on his new career as a lecturer on sustainable cities. Further, the content of the book read like an inflated campaign pamphlet rather than reliable source material.

But what's wrong with this book project is that it was dishonest from the start. The equation never worked. A run of 5,000 books for $108,000 comes to a cost of $21 per book. They were initially selling for $19.95. There was never going to be a profit, not even a break-even.

If the cache of leftover books ends up being loaded on a truck and burned quietly at HPOWER, that might be their greatest contribution to sustainability.

Lee Cataluna can be reached at


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