Mufi Hannemann is a politician who wears his passions on the outside for all to see.
He is the American success story that should inspire kids across the state to say, “Yes, you can, now get to work.”
With his drive to win, translating athletic talent and brains into scholarships to ‘Iolani, Harvard and even a White House fellowship, Hannemann went on to be the two-term Honolulu mayor that finally brought together the public support for both a tax increase and a multibillion-dollar rail system.
That forcefulness to win with such vehemence also showed Hannemann’s capability to deliver both the body checks and sharp elbows that made voters turn away.
After losing a race for governor four years ago and to Congress two years ago, Hannemann is back running for governor as an independent.
One of his first commercials, heard last week on the radio, is an apology of sorts for his past take-no-prisoners political style.
“I have also learned a lot while being out of office,” he says.
“Campaigns can be humbling experiences. After each one you ponder and reflect on the lessons learned. I realize I must be more sensitive to others as we work through complex challenges …
“Given another chance to serve, I promise compassionate and collaborative leadership that is respectful and responsive to the wishes of the people,” Hannemann says.
In an interview, Hannemann explained that he felt he needed to square up with the voters early on.
“I think nobody can say that I am not qualified or lack experience,” Hannemann said.
“So I have to address the issue of style of leadership … If you have had a problem with me in the past, I hear you,” Hannemann said.
This reflection is a step up from Hannemann’s comments during a debate in 2010 when he was asked about a controversial brochure that highlighted the differences between him and fellow gubernatorial candidate Neil Abercrombie.
“If we caused that kind of uneasiness and suffering from some people who saw it that way, certainly, it’s regrettable, and I’m sorry if it caused you that kind of feeling,” Hannemann said.
Even earlier in Hannemann’s career, former Honolulu Star-Bulletin reporter Tim Ryan wrote about the Hannemann style in a 2000 profile.
“Along the way, he has made passionate enemies — not simple adversaries — as well as friends. Political opponents and some who have worked under him at state and city levels say Hannemann can be intimidating, demeaning, demoralizing, an emotional bully who doesn’t appreciate being disagreed with,” Ryan wrote.
Hannemann today says he has been responsive to criticism in the past but also loses public sympathy because at 6 feet, 7 inches, he is a really big target.
“Because I am big and tall when I am passionate it can come across as intimidating, so I have to factor that in now,” Hannemann said.
“Maybe I need to sit instead of stand,” he speculated.
A political apology or mea culpa commercial usually comes at the end of a campaign, not the beginning, but Hannemann sees the value in getting the issue of style out of the way early.
In politics, style can translate into substance — and Hannemann will have to master both to come out ahead in the November race for governor.