Senators, staff remember Inouye at the U.S. Capitol

Senators, staff remember Inouye at the U.S. Capitol
Senator Daniel Inouye
Senator Daniel Inouye
Sen. Daniel Akaka signs memorial book
Sen. Daniel Akaka signs memorial book

WASHINGTON D.C. (HawaiiNewsNow) - People lined up to sign condolence books at the late Sen. Dan Inouye's office in the Hart Senate office building Tuesday as his staffers remembered their boss fondly, one day after he died at age 88.

Congressional aides came by the dozens to sign the remembrance books, as did senators and members of the U.S. House.

Fellow Hawaii Sen. Dan Akaka was among those signing them.

"He has been an example.  Coming from Hawaii, bred in Hawaii, of having the kind of pride that drives him to do the best for the people of Hawaii and for this great country," Akaka told Hawaii News Now.

Bouquets of flowers arrived in Inouye's office all day long, and people came to the office to hug Inouye's staffers and offer them support.

Inouye Chief of Staff Marie Blanco said, "We got a lot of emails, basically, from all of Senator's friends. And offering condolence, of course, but also to see what they could do to help our office, our staff.  And it's been overwhelming."

Blanco started as a secretary with Inouye 34 years ago and is one of his longest-serving employees who now oversees his 20-person office. Blanco says Inouye was a lovable grandfather figure for many of his younger staff.

"He could be stern sometimes and yet he could be very playful in another.  And yet when you take him seriously, it comes out sometimes to be a joke," Blanco said.

Inouye's private senate office was still filled with reminders of his past military service and his Medal of Honor as well as other mementos Tuesday.

His staff has begun to pack things up since they have been told they have 60 days before they must move out before a successor will arrive, bringing potentially new staff.

Because Inouye was so powerful and held several key positions, he had several offices at the capitol, besides his staff office.

There was his President Pro-Tempore office in the Capitol building, a position that put him third in line for the presidency. Tuesday, Inouye's cane and a lei were draped on his chair in the Pro-Tem's office even though the Senate had turned over the position to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont).

In the Senate appropriations committee room, also in the Capitol, a dozen roses and a kukui nut lei remained at Inouye's empty chairman's seat, along with the gavel that he used to begin meetings that made multi-billion dollar federal budget decisions.

"He left a legacy that all of us would be well-served to emulate," said Sen. Thad Cochran of (R-Mississippi), who is the ranking minority member and vice chairman of the powerful appropriations committee. He sat right next to Inouye at the committee table.

"He was easy to be with.  He was courteous, he was kind, he was soft-spoken.  But he could also be tough, a tough negotiator, particularly when it came to the bills that were being reported by this committee," Cochran said.

In Inouye's personal appropriations office, many of his items have been removed, but watercolor paintings of the islands and this poi-pounder remain, for now.

Hawaii has had the most senior delegation in the US Senate until Inouye's death.

"All of a sudden, with his passing and with my retiring, we're on the bottom of the scale. So our new leaders have a job to do look forward to in carrying that on in the future," said Akaka, 88, who is retiring at the end of the year.

Akaka said he supports the wishes of Inouye to select U.S. Rep Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii) as his successor.

"She's done well in the House of Representatives and with that background, she can serve well too, in the US Senate," Akaka said.

Sources said Inouye urged Hanabusa to run for the Congressional seat being left vacant by Neil Abercrombie, who left Congress in 2010 to run for governor.  Inouye told her he wanted her to be positioned to be his successor, sources said.  Inouye told Hanabusa she was one of few Hawaii politicians he felt had the requisite skills needed to be a successful U.S. senator, a source said.

Copyright 2012 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.