Colorful and controversial political figure Rod Tam died this afternoon due to complications from leukemia, a family spokesman said.
He was 65.
Tam earned a reputation for making his constituents his top priority during three decades in elected office — in the state House of Representatives, the state Senate and then the Honolulu City Council. A Pauoa Valley resident, his base included Liliha, Nuuanu and Alewa Heights.
But Tam may best be remembered for being sentenced in November 2011 to two nights in jail and 338 hours of community service after pleading guilty to stealing money from the city and violating campaign spending laws. Among the charges was that he falsified documents related to overcharging the city $8 to $267 for meals not related to city business at Honolulu restaurants from 2007 to 2009.
When, at one point, the Council voted to censure him and ordered him to return $13,700 to the city, Tam joined in the vote. He admitted to no wrongdoing, acknowledging only that he had made several “math errors” and it was time for the Council to “move on with business.”
Tam was also known for his trademark moustache and light-blue, collared long-sleeve shirts — and for some eye-raising proposals. In the Legislature, he introduced a bill giving government workers time to nap and snack. At the Council, he proposed fining people who smelled bad on TheBus.
He tried to make a political comeback in 2016, running for the state Senate as a Republican but was defeated by Karl Rhoads.
Neighborhood Board Executive Director Shawn Hamamoto, Tam’s aide for nine years, said his former boss should be remembered for working tirelessly for his community. Tam told reporters he slept very little each night, something Hamamoto said was true. “He worked night and day and would give his cellphone number to literally anyone,” he said.
“The guy really had a big heart,” Hamamoto said. “He was Mr. Grass Roots. He took great joy from empowering people.”
Tam, a fifth-generation Chinese-American, is survived by his wife Lynnette; son Gregg; daughter Laurie; his father Bob; his sister Noreen and his brother Stanley.
“Rod worked very hard for over 30 years to help his community,” Tam’s family said in a statement. The family also thanked those who supported him since he was diagnosed in January.
Services are pending.