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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sorry I couldn't be there for me

By Lee Cataluna

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Mayor Mufi Hannemann at Houston's Bush Airport, at 7:30 yesterday morning.

Courtesy of John Simonds

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Starting this week, Lee Cataluna's column will appear on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

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Two guys were in the wrong place when the tsunami warning sirens were going off yesterday morning.

There was the guy, commonly called "that idiot" on Twitter, frolicking all by himself in the water on Waikīkī Beach in perfect view of the TV station live cams.

And there was Mayor Mufi Hannemann, commonly called "undeclared candidate for governor even though everybody knows he's running," who was far, far out of earshot of those blaring sirens.

Poor Mufi. The Waikīkī idiot was willful in his actions but Hannemann was a victim of circumstance. It wasn't his fault he was on the Mainland while everyone in his city was running for the hills.

Disasters are a make-it-or-break-it opportunity for politicians. Careers have been launched, decimated and redeemed by hurricanes, floods, blizzards and acts of terrorism.

Hurricane Katrina was the fulcrum of George W. Bush's presidency. Even his true believers didn't believe quite as much after that. New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was everybody's goat until he led his city through those terrible days after the 9/11 attacks. People are still mad at the (untrue) rumors about then-Kaua'i Mayor JoAnn Yukimura having the only house on Kaua'i with electricity after Hurricane Iniki.

It's not just what elected officials actually say and do during those hours of panic; it's the perception of whether they were steadfast and in control or if they were milking the situation to their advantage.

During those highly impressionable hours, you can't make any impression at all when you're in a plane screaming at the pilot, "Floor it, Captain Robello! I gotta get home and look comfortingly in control!" Hannemann couldn't even Tweet from the plane. His Twitter page said: "Tsunami bulletin: Quake in Chile generating tsunami. To arrive HI sometime about 11:00 a.m." Well past 11 a.m.

His aides called all news outlets to let them know he was fully briefed and due to land any minute. Meanwhile, city managing director and mayoral understudy Kirk Caldwell used the moment to his campaign's advantage. There he was calm and informed in his red palaka shirt as though channeling Bill Paty.

Caldwell even obligingly invoked his boss, saying, "As Mayor Hannemann always says, plan for the worst and hope for the best."

Meanwhile, Gov. Linda Lingle, in her "all clear" message, made sure to talk about the wonderful coordination statewide with Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi, Kaua'i Mayor Bernard Carvalho and Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares, who was up in a Blackhawk helicopter watching her coastline.

One name was obvious in its omission in that list of mahalos, and he was on an inbound flight not even able to Twitter a tweet.

Poor thing.