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Mufi Hannemann

Mayor of Honolulu

 

Honolulu—A Wonderful City”

Inaugural Address

Hawaii Theatre

January 2, 2009

 

 

Honored guests, ladies and gentlemen.

 

It is indeed an honor to be with you this evening as your mayor.  Election to office is always a gratifying and humbling experience:  Gratifying because it represents the conclusion of a hard-fought victory made possible by the tremendous support of many of you gathered here tonight; humbling because of the enormous responsibilities entrusted to those elected to serve.

 

Gail and I are deeply grateful for the resounding vote of confidence you gave me in November’s election, and attribute our reelection to your faith in the ambitious goals we set forth just four years ago and your recognition of our success in achieving them.

 

As I stand before you tonight, I’m reminded again of the hard work and sacrifices that my father and mother, Gustav and Faiaso, made for their children.  Like you, I am eternally grateful for being blessed with loving parents who provided me with an opportunity to pursue my hopes and dreams.  Just as they did for me, I want to leave the place of my birth better than I found it.

 

So it is fitting that we are observing the 100th anniversary of the election of the City’s first mayor, Joseph Fern.  By happy coincidence, I attended the elementary school named in his honor, and I hope I am following in his tradition of service to others as your 12th mayor.

 

As we vowed when we first took office, we have put our financial house in order and are living within our means.  We are one of the safest big cities in the entire nation.  We’re rebuilding an aging sewer infrastructure.  We’re repaving our roads.  We’re cleaning up our parks and improving our public facilities.

 

These are not my successes.  They are ours.  I speak of the members of the Honolulu City Council, the members of the Legislature, an exceptional Congressional delegation, leaders from the business, labor, and non-profit community, and countless individuals across our great state, who have come forward to be a part of the solution, to offer their ideas, and to pledge to work together to make our home, our Honolulu, the best place to live, work, and raise our families.

 

From our perch on that foundation, we now look to the future.

 

We are bolstering the City’s efforts to protect our precious environment through our 21st Century Ahupuaa, a program that melds our host culture with the technological advancements of modern society to preserve all that’s wonderful about our islands.

 

Thanks to the electorate’s affirmation, we’re on the cusp of building a mass transit system that will create thousands of jobs, enhance our quality of life, and help meet Oahu’s transportation needs well into the 21st century—an accomplishment that had eluded every City administration for more than 40 years.

 

But these are difficult times, like no other we’ve seen in recent memory.

 

In my inaugural address four years ago, I asked you to join me in a prayer for the brave men and women—many from Hawaii—who were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  They are still there, and our thoughts continue to be with them as we pray for their safe return to their loved ones here at home.

 

The meltdown in the financial industry has been a contagion that has spread across the globe and infected nations, and just about every corner of the global economy.  Hawaii has not been immune.

 

The City and County of Honolulu is retrenching in preparation for a decline in real estate values and a commensurate drop in the property tax revenues that are the City’s primary source of income to underwrite everything from police and fire services to sewer repairs and road repaving.

 

Across the street from Honolulu Hale, the governor and Legislature are grappling with a sizable deficit, and we’re already hearing about the impact of these cutbacks.

 

It would be so easy to throw our hands up in the air or resort to finger-pointing and blaming others for these problems.  There’s so much gloom-and-doom that there seems to be a feeling of defeatism, a loss of hope that I believe is even more harmful than the condition of our economy.

 

I ask you:  Is this the spirit that made our nation the envy of the world?  Is this the attitude that will keep us strong and united?  Is this the inspiration that propelled our Polynesian forefathers to navigate and settle the mighty Pacific?

 

I say, no.

 

I’m delighted that my mayoral colleagues are with us tonight:  Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares, Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho, and Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi.  Together, we constitute the Hawaii Council of Mayors and we expect to collaborate on finding solutions to the needs of the counties.  We’ve begun meeting, talking, and looking for ways to reach across the ocean that separates us to develop tangible ways to deal with everyday problems and major crises—as opposed to the traditional method of always waiting or deferring to the state to show us the way.

 

After all, Jonathan Tisch, the highly respected chairman and CEO of Loews Hotels and head of the U.S. Travel Association, affirmed the importance of cities and mayors when he said, “Mayors, as CEOs of their cities, are on the frontlines in dealing with this travel crisis.”

 

Mayors, not only in Hawaii, but across the nation, stand ready to collaborate with our co-leaders in government, business, and labor to implement our common economic stimulus goals and pursue other positive solutions to strengthen our communities.

 

Our efforts, which include nearly a billion dollars in City capital improvements, plus the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ package submitted to President-elect Obama and Congress, will help to restart a stalled economy.  But public infrastructure projects alone will not be enough.

 

A mayor’s job involves not just filling potholes and fixing sewers, but championing and marketing one’s city.

 

I have not been idle while the economy has slumped.  My work with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, plus meetings with Korean and American tourism officials, helped lead to the expansion of federal visa waivers to grant visitors from friendly nations easier access to our nation.  We should be seeing more Korean visitors filling our hotel rooms and enjoying our beaches, while we push for more countries, especially from Asia, to be added to the program.  We’re pleased that the U.S. House passed the Travel Promotion Act as a means of supporting more international travel.  And Senator Inouye, co-sponsor of the Senate’s version, and his colleagues seem poised to move forward on this initiative.

 

At last fall’s leadership meeting of the Conference of Mayors, I led the charge as chairman of the tourism and arts committee, to call for more federal support for the arts that will trickle down to our nation’s cities, and proposed systemic solutions to aid the airline industry.  I’m co-chairing with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley a public-private task force to bring the 2016 Olympics to this country, which, if successful, will undoubtedly generate travel to Hawaii.

 

Locally, despite these challenging economic times, the City was successful in encouraging Donald Trump and the Disney Corporation to invest in major resort projects in Waikiki and Ko Olina, respectively.  You can expect my administration to continue these proactive steps to woo private sector investment that will create jobs for our people.

 

Keep in mind that problems are not as important as solutions.  And our people have the mana‘o, the talent, the skills, the energy, and the creativity to overcome any obstacles or impediments in our way.

 

But we need to believe in ourselves.

 

I’d like to take you back to the words I shared in my first inaugural address.  At the time, I quoted Governor John A. Burns, the man who had guided Hawaii to statehood and who was a champion of the political, social, and economic progress we’ve come to enjoy.  Jack Burns had lived through the Great Depression, World War II, conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, and a prolonged battle over statehood for Hawaii.

 

This man, who had risen above events that crushed many, observed in his 1969 state-of-the-state address, that the people of Hawaii suffered from a subtle inferiority of spirit that was unwarranted.  He inferred that we didn’t have confidence in our ability to take our rightful place as citizens of this great nation, that we couldn’t compete against our mainland peers, that we somehow lacked whatever it took to be first-class.

 

Sadly, too many of us still feel that, even as we enter our 50th anniversary of statehood.  We think that our local institutions are not as sophisticated or as highly regarded as those in other places.  We suspect that our people can’t compete successfully against those from elsewhere, that we have to go away in order to gain the experience to be qualified.  We believe that our ideas don’t amount to much.  We surmise that other cities, other states, do things better than we do.

 

I say, we need not take a back seat to anyone.  And as the nation is beginning to appreciate, excellence and greatness emanate from our shores.

 

In a few days, Barack Obama, a man born in this very city, whose parents reflected the diversity of our unique island culture, will become the 44th President of the United States, the most powerful and influential leader in the world.

 

On a personal note, I want to convey to Maya Soetoro-Ng, President-elect Obama’s sister, how touched I was to have him tell me as he left Honolulu yesterday, that he had a great time on Oahu, that he didn’t want to leave, and that he looked forward to returning.  What’s more, the Secret Service was very impressed with the men and women of the Honolulu Police Department and our exceptional team of first-responders, who serve with professionalism and aloha.

 

Our senior Senator, Daniel Inouye, has become the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.  If you know anything about Capitol Hill, you know that Appropriations is the most powerful committee in Congress.

 

His colleague, Daniel Akaka, is heading the Veterans Affairs Committee.  Two sons of Hawaii, out of only a hundred members, lead two of the top committees in the Senate.  Their influence on the Hill far outweighs Hawaii’s population, size, or any of the other measure of rank or representation.

 

President-elect Obama has named another local product, General Eric Shinseki, to head the Department of Veterans Affairs.  This is the first time a son of Hawaii has been named a cabinet secretary.

 

On the local scene, you recall with great pride the success of the Ewa Beach/West Oahu Little Leaguers in winning the World Series crown in 2006 and the Waipio Little League duplicating that amazing feat just months ago.

 

In the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, Bryan Clay, a Castle High graduate, won the gold medal in the decathlon and with it the title of “world’s greatest athlete.”  Natasha Kai, of Kahuku, earned a gold medal as a member of the U.S. women’s soccer team, while Kaiser High’s Clay Stanley earned gold with the men’s volleyball squad.

 

Manti Teo, an Eagle Scout and outstanding student-athlete from Punahou School, is the Sporting News High School Athlete of the Year and regarded as one of the top football prospects by college coaches across the nation.

 

These are just some of the more prominent examples.  But you and I know that our people are succeeding at all levels, in all professions, in all endeavors, to wit.

 

A team of Farrington High School students won one of two $75,000 grand prizes in the nationwide Lexus Environmental Challenge, for their global education efforts in renewable energy, while Farrington science teacher Jennifer Hoof received the 2008 Crystal Apple National Teacher Award from Time Warner for “The Kalihi Ahupuaa Project.”

 

Teams from Iolani School, my alma mater, were once again finalists in the National Economics Challenge, rising to the top from among a thousand competing high school teams nationwide.  The students from Hawaii took second and third place divisional honors this past May, to add to the consecutive national titles they copped the previous three years.

 

Rose Nakamura, who founded Project Dana 20 years ago and was an honoree of the City’s inaugural Forever Young Award in 2008, was heralded by the AARP as one of the nation’s “Ten Who Inspire,” a credit to someone who has combined compassion with companionship to help older members of the community enjoy fuller lives.

 

Tabitha Taraya graduated from Leilehua High School last spring after winning five national Scholastic Art awards, including the prestigious American Visions Award, for the second time.

 

After spending 22 years caring for the elderly, gerontological nurse practitioner Valisa Saunders of Kaiser Permanente Hawaii was named Clinician of the Year by the American Geriatrics Society, the first time the award has gone to a non-physician.

 

Richard Maruya of Kaneohe last month received federal approval for a new refrigerant that he spent 15 years developing in his garage.  The EPA also recognized Mr. Maruya for his innovative research, which will make refrigerators and air-conditioners more efficient and environment-friendly.

 

These awards and accolades—from 2008 alone—are just a few of the ways people from Hawaii nei showed not only that we can hold our own nationally, we can and we do excel.  When given the opportunity, we rise to the occasion.

 

Hawaii is a place of greatness; we have much to be proud of.  My friends, we can do anything.

 

That’s why the economic challenges before us, no matter how daunting and difficult, should not discourage or defeat us.  One of my maxims of leadership is, “Never base decisions on fear.”

 

In that context, we should view this economic crisis as an opportunity to revitalize and reenergize our focus on the number-one issue facing our state and country.  Indeed, we need kokua from Washington and from overseas visitors and investors.  But at the end of the day, my friends, our pleas for help will be for naught if we don’t follow the admonition of my high school football coach, Eddie Hamada, who would say after a penalty, “Shake it off and move on.”

 

It is in this spirit that I ask all the people of this city to come together … to work together … to dream together, of a better future for Honolulu.  It is in this spirit, as the mayor of the 12th largest city in the country, that I approach my second term in office:

 

Ready to listen.

 

Ready to collaborate.

 

Ready to lead.

 

Let’s make this a wonderful city … and a wonderful world.

 

Aloha ke Akua.

 

 

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Media contact: Bill Brennan, Mayor’s Office, 527-6928