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Frank Fasi; led Honolulu for six terms as mayor; 89

FRANK FASI FRANK FASI (Associated Press)
By Douglas Martin
New York Times / February 15, 2010

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NEW YORK - Frank F. Fasi, the outspoken, streetwise, six-term mayor of Honolulu whose aggressive remake of the city’s governance and infrastructure included personally mounting a bulldozer to turn a City Council parking lot into a park, died Feb. 3 at his home in Honolulu. He was 89.

He died several weeks after falling and breaking his hip, his son David said.

Known as “Fearless Frank,’’ Mr. Fasi drove a bulldozer one night in 1980 to give council members a morning surprise. The lot, with cherished parking spots right next to City Hall, became a green space that is now named for him.

Mr. Fasi’s brash side also showed in 1971 when he ended a bus strike by buying a private bus company and flying to Dallas to buy more buses to create a new transit system. Wearing a white cowboy hat, he drove the first bus off the ship.

Mr. Fasi was mayor for a total of 22 years from 1968 to 1994, starting as a Democrat and ending as Republican. As Honolulu, the capital of the new state, was sprouting skyscrapers, he put his signature on a highly praised bus system, a decentralized government, community gardens, and farmers’ markets. Ground will soon be broken on the light-rail network he tried to start 17 years ago, falling short by a single council vote.

The present mayor, Mufi Hannemann, said in a prepared statement that Mr. Fasi was a “bold and gutsy leader who shaped modern Honolulu.’’

Mr. Fasi had a two-fisted style that some likened to old-time mayors of big cities on the mainland. When he was told that it was illegal to eject T-shirt sellers clogging sidewalks near Waikiki, he simply installed huge planters so they had no place to go.

“There is a kind of `last hurrah’ Curley flavor to Fasi’s style of politics,’’ the political reporter Lou Cannon wrote in The Washington Post in 1977, referring to the late James Michael Curley, the freewheeling mayor of Boston.

Mr. Fasi’s support came mainly from the lower-middle class and immigrants. He was the first Honolulu mayor to drive himself to work. “He was the champion of the little guy,’’ Hannemann said in an interview.

Mr. Fasi fought with the press, periodically barring one or both of the state’s main daily newspapers from City Hall, unsuccessfully suing one for libel and attacking both in vain for antitrust violations.

In 1977 he and a campaign manager were indicted on charges of accepting a $500,000 bribe from a developer, a poker-playing buddy of the mayor’s, but the charges were dropped. Still, suspicions of corruption clung to Mr. Fasi.

“All things being equal, you help your friends,’’ he declared. “You don’t help your enemies.’’

With his black (and later silver) hair swept back, he honed a well-groomed, well-tailored image, demanding that television cameras be set lower than his eye level because, at 5 foot 8, he said he thought he looked taller from that angle.

Francis Fasi was born in East Hartford, Conn. His father was an iceman, he had five siblings, and the family lived on poverty’s edge. Still, he made his way to Trinity College in Hartford and graduated. After serving in the Marines in the South Pacific in World War II, he returned to New England but, remembering his leave in Hawaii, he soon went back for good. In Hawaii, he became rich by converting military Quonset huts to civilian housing.

Mr. Fasi ran for various offices four times and lost before winning a seat in Hawaii’s territorial senate in 1958. In 1959, six months before Hawaii became a state, he was first to announce his candidacy for the US Senate. He ran as a Democrat and lost to Republican Hiram Fong.

Mr. Fasi also ran as a Democrat in winning his first three mayoral elections. After losing the fourth, he switched to the Republican Party and won three more terms. He resigned in 1994 to run for governor in a new party he had created and immodestly named the Best Party. He lost.