Gubernatorial candidate Mufi Hannemann admitted he's sometimes come on “too strong” in past campaigns and as Honolulu mayor, leading to the perception that he's a bully.
During Wednesday night's debate sponsored by Hawaii News Now and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Hannemann's opponent, State Sen. David Ige asked him a question that was aimed at Hannemann's lingering reputation as a bully.
"In a unanimous decision, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that you destroyed the livelihoods of two stagehands by blacklisting them from working at the city facility," said Ige, a Democrat.
"I stand by my character. I stand by my integrity,” responded Hannemann, who's running for governor as a candidate for the Hawaii Independent Party, which was just created this year and has only one candidate running besides Hannemann and his running mate.
“I just wish you would have asked a question about my record at City Hall, about why I'm fit to be governor as opposed to engaging in character assassination again," Hannemann said, noting Ige had asked him about the same issue at a previous forum.
In an interview, Hannemann told Hawaii News Now his overwhelming defeats in his last two races, for Congress in 2012 and for governor in 2010, were humbling experiences.
In 2012, he lost the Democratic primary for Congress to Tulsi Gabbard by more than 20 percentage points. In 2010, Hannemann was defeated by Neil Abercrombie in the Democratic gubernatorial primary by a 21-point margin.
"I'm willing to say I've made mistakes. I have shortcomings. That's how I was raised. You admit when you're not doing as well. I'm not perfect by any means," Hannemann said.
Hannemann admitted he gave the impression of coming on too strong lobbying for rail transit and in previous campaigns.
"I think it's more perception or they thought I was being a little too much at times. And I'm just trying to say if you convince me that's something you want to do, I'm going to push for it and make it happen," Hannemann said.
"He has to soften his image,” said University of Hawaii Manoa political science professor Colin Moore, a Hawaii News Now political analyst. “I think that's his biggest, one of his biggest liabilities."
"Hannemann has seen what happened to Abercrombie,” Moor said. “This style of politics: confrontational, perhaps arrogant,” Moore said. “He's suffered loss because of that. He's seen that Abercrombie suffered a serious loss because as a result of that, so he needs to moderate his style."
Hannemann claimed since he's tall and Samoan, he can appear to be intimidating and a bully.
"I'm a little more conscious now of the need to sit down, kneel, as oppose to always standing,” Hannemann said. “Because when you see me from a distance, you go 'What's going over there? He's overseeing someone.' You know and it's just who I am."
Yet during Wednesday night's HNN debate, Hannemann towered over Ige, standing right next to the seated Ige as Ige asked him a question.
In this year's governor's race, Hannemann has consistently polled third among the leading candidates, Ige as well as Republican Duke Aiona, the former lieutenant governor.
On Election Day Nov. 4, Hannemann will learn whether he's been able to make up some considerable ground to win or suffer his third political defeat in a row.
He claimed his 2010 defeat by Abercrombie was not based on voters' perception of his management abilities.
"I think it was less on my management ability than on what many had perceived to be an ambitious Mufi leaving one job to go to another job too soon. And I paid a price for it," Hannemann said.
"Campaigns can be humbling experiences and that's one of the lessons learned. I should have conveyed a better sense that I was leaving the city better off than we found it," he added. "What I tried to convey four years ago that sort of got muddied in other issues 'He's leaving City Hall too soon.' 'He's putting his personal ambition before what's good for the people.' I think given what they've seen the past four years, and now going forward, maybe there will be a little more receptivity to what I'm talking about."
Asked to explain his losses further, Hannemann said, "People who do well in primaries are those that run to the left. In the Republican primaries, those that run to the right. I'm in the middle, I'm where most people are, so I struggle to get out of the Democratic primary."