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Hawaii News

Gubernatorial race is as much about image as issues

Five days and counting.

As much as Saturday’s Democratic primary may hinge on where the candidates stand on specific hot-button issues, it is also likely to reflect the degree to which former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann and former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie have been able to reconcile seemingly polar aspects of their public personas.

While Hannemann’s supporters praise his ability to get things done, detractors claim that his record is sullied by his penchant for bullying opponents. Part of Hannemann’s challenge this election season has been to convince voters that his leadership style is more about compromising and building consensus than steamrolling opposition.

For Abercrombie, who burst on the political scene as an anti-war crusader, the challenge has been to sell voters on the idea that he can still be "an agent of change" despite spending much of his 40-year career as a cog in the state’s Democratic establishment.

Hannemann, who has served as director of the state’s economic development department, city councilman and mayor, portrays himself as local boy from Kalihi who grew up to fulfill a childhood dream of holding public office.

Hannemann said his reputation for unilaterally pushing laws and policies into place is unfounded.

"I compromise a lot, and sometimes people don’t see that because I’m such a dominant person," Hannemann said. "That’s the only reason why I’ve been able to get results."

Besides rail and sewer improvements — each of which will cost more than $5 billion — Hannemann also oversaw pothole repairs, an upgrade in the city’s bond rating and the launch of curbside recycling.

One of his recent political victories came when he led a successful effort to block a plan by state legislators and the governor to take hotel tax money from the counties for use by the state. Hannemann opposed the tax grab by unifying the state’s four mayors through the Hawaii Council of Mayors.

Abercrombie has painted Hannemann as someone tied to the way things are. At the same time, the former congressman insists he himself can fundamentally alter the course of state government.

"Are you ready for a change in the direction of Hawaii?" Abercrombie asked a large crowd at a Honolulu rally last month. "You are here tonight on the verge of going in another direction."

But Abercrombie, who headed a House Armed Services subcommittee during his time in Congress, has long been part of Hawaii’s governing class.

At a recent debate, Hannemann noted that he was in high school when Abercrombie’s political career began.

"How can you now say that you are this agent of change?" the 56-year-old Hannemann asked.

Abercrombie responded that he opposed the Iraq war under President George W. Bush, and fought for Hawaii depositors who worried they’d lose their deposits when loan company Manoa Finance was placed in receivership in 1983.

"Those are the kind of things I’ve dedicated myself to all my life," he replied.


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