In my long history of asking political leaders half-baked questions, one of the dumber ones was to then-Mayor Frank Fasi.
The computer game SimCity had just come out and I thought it would be fascinating to have him play the game, build a city and decide how it would be run. The exercise would then explain his own municipal philosophy.
"I’m not playing any games. I run this city," Fasi told me.
That’s the way it is with mayors. They know what they are doing, they have their hands on the levers and they are making a city.
In this election we have three candidates with qualifications to be managers: a politician, a prosecutor and an engineer, but I am still waiting to hear a mayor talk to me about why Honolulu is a great city and how they will build on it.
Part of the problem may be that the job of mayor in Honolulu is so slight.
Across the country, the big-city mayors are dealing with the big problems. Chicago now is still in shock with the announcement that Richard Daley, who took office in 1989, will not run again.
Daley runs Chicago, with a hand in the largest public housing department in the nation, the Chicago public schools, a transit system with 1.7 million daily riders, seven city colleges and two airports.
The Illinois Legislature handed responsibility for the Chicago schools to the mayor in 1995.
You don’t hear anybody saying, "Give Farrington and Kaimuki to Honolulu Hale."
Great cities have great mayors who run the schools, the ports and the hospitals, plus the stuff on a Honolulu mayor’s job list: roads, police, fire, zoning and civil defense.
In past campaigns, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani promoted himself as "America’s mayor" and, for many, the title stuck.
Here in Honolulu, Fasi was not remembered for making sure the fire trucks were working or that the corporation counsel was turning out timely legal opinions; Fasi was Honolulu’s greatest mayor because he was delivering above and beyond the job, and in doing so he redefined Honolulu.
A good mayor is a micromanager, a detail-demanding fanatic who knows the latest in garbage truck sideloader design, modular municipal swimming pool design and pedestrian parks.
A great mayor believes Honolulu can be the city everybody wants to live in.
A city with undeveloped resources such as Chinatown’s River Street, terminally troubled areas such as the "Pupu" streets of Waipahu, the graceful homes of Nuuanu and the plantation communities of Waialua should all sing to Honolulu’s mayor.
So far our candidates appear to be tone deaf.