Stories by Sky Barnhart, Jill Engledow, Jason Hilford, Michael Stein, Shannon Wianecki | Photography by Jason Moore, Stewart Pinsky, Sky Barnhart, Jill Engledow
No, People magazine didn’t pick them. Even though she owns property here, you won’t see Oprah’s name. Nor Owen Wilson’s, either. Aside from an occasional charity concert (thanks, Willie Nelson!), or the casually incognito star sighted at Charlie’s, Jacques, or Mana Foods, the rich-and-famous don’t touch our lives the way these Mauians do.
The folks who fit our definition of “intriguing” are working to preserve the past or define the future; protecting our environment or telling Maui what needs to change. Some move in the glare of the local spotlight; others barely make a blip on Maui’s radar screen. Some make us laugh; others make us fighting mad. But all of them—activist or entertainer, politician or publisher, real-estate developer or reality-check guru—make a difference. In doing so, they awaken our curiosity. They prompt us to ask questions and learn more.
Nor is our list comprehensive, which is why we’ll be compiling a new one, same time next year. If you know someone who deserves to be included, we’d love to know, too. Send your nominee’s name and a brief description of what makes him or her intriguing, to Managing Editor, Maui No Ka ‘Oi, 90 Central Avenue, Wailuku, HI 96793; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sorry, Oprah. Maybe next year.
Willie K & Eric Gilliom Native Talent
In the past year, no two local guys have captured the attention of the Maui music scene more than Willie K and Eric Gilliom.
Separately, they are a story in themselves: Willie Kahaiali‘i—Grammy-nominated musician with numerous CDs and Na Hoku Hanohano awards to his name, son of jazz legend Manu Kahaiali‘i; and Eric Gilliom—actor/musician with a list of TV, Hollywood and Broadway credits, grandson of revered actress and choreographer Jennie Napua Woodd.
Together, they are the Barefoot Natives—a creative musical duo just as likely to get the crowd laughing with a wedding spoof, serenading each other across the aisles, as to evoke chicken-skin with a thrilling rendition of Willie’s song “Indigenous Nations.”
Both guys grew up on Maui and were encouraged by their families to begin performing at a young age. But it wasn’t until Willie started recording albums with Eric’s sister—well-known ha‘i (female falsetto) singer Amy Hanaiali‘i Gilliom—that the two began collaborating musically, releasing their first CD in May 2006.
Onstage, Eric’s bumbling antics are a perfect foil for Willie’s gruff demeanor. Offstage, their personalities are different, but not much. Eric is warm, exuberant, quick with a story and any excuse to dramatize.
Willie is more reserved at first, but his affectionate nature soon surfaces; he’ll respond with a huge bear hug, and if you’re lucky, an irresistible giggle. He is well-known in Lahaina, his huge black truck rolling down Front Street inviting calls of “Howzit, Uncle?”
Until the recent closure of Hapa’s, Monday nights at the popular Kihei nightclub belonged to “Uncle” Willie K. Fans knew that when Willie got on stage at 10 p.m. and picked up his guitar, it was time to fasten your seatbelt. His guitar playing is without boundaries, encompassing rock, jazz, blues, swing, reggae, salsa and every other style and nationality.
“I never know where we’re going in a show,” Eric says. “It’s kind of scary, but at the same time, playing with Willie is never boring.”
A longtime martial-arts black belt, Willie commands respect—not only for his strength, but for his dedication to his island home.
Both guys share a deep, unwavering commitment to Maui and to Native Hawaiian culture. Since 2004, Willie has hosted the Willie K Charity Golf Tournament to benefit cancer patients—one of the many charitable efforts he supports on Maui. Last year, the Natives’ CD-release party onboard Pride of Hawai‘i benefited four Hawai‘i charities; and partial proceeds from their first Barefoot Bash went to Hui O Wa‘a Kaulua, a Lahaina-based group that perpetuates Polynesian ocean-voyaging traditions.
“It’s always about us connecting to the soul of the Hawaiian people,” Eric says. “This is about Maui people; it’s about our hope and spirit.”
This year the two are breaking new ground with what they’re calling “Hawaiian musical theater,” an innovative combination of comedy, culture and music. The range gives them unlimited possibilities—and that’s just how they like it.
“Expect the unexpected,” Willie says.
Ram Dass Soul Man
His words are slow, and he travels mostly by wheelchair, but a near-fatal stroke did not diminish the radiant spirit that shines when Ram Dass smiles. After all these years, Ram Dass still lives by the philosophy he articulated in the book that touched a generation more than 30 years ago: “Be Here Now”.
“Here” for Ram Dass is Maui, where he lives in a spacious house overlooking Ha‘iku pastures and the ocean below. He has no intention of leaving, because after years of lecturing all over the country, he has vowed never to fly again. Two years ago, he says, “my friends got together and organized my life so I could stay here. I’m staying here until I die.”
As psychologist Dr. Richard Alpert, Ram Dass helped fellow Harvard professor Timothy Leary introduce America’s youth to LSD and other psychedelic drugs in the 1960s. Though the drugs were still legal at that time, their experiments so shook the Harvard establishment that the two were fired. Alpert went to India, met his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, and returned as Ram Dass. He wrote the book Be Here Now, a spiritual catalyst for a generation whose minds had been opened to spirituality by psychedelics, and who sought to remain detached from ego, dwelling in the soul.
Ram Dass is still on the same path, and still leading the way for baby boomers, who now face aging and death. His stroke, in 1997, challenged his spirituality as he tried to understand how the grace that had blessed him could have left him, for a time, helpless and speechless. He found his way back to grace by sharing his journey in service to others. The author of 11 books, he chronicled his stroke experience in Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing and Dying.
From his rural retreat, Ram Dass keeps in touch with the world through the Internet. He does webcast lectures once a month, meets with individuals, attends meetings of the Hanuman Temple in Taos, New Mexico—all online. He is still active with the Seva Foundation, which he helped found in1978 to alleviate suffering caused by disease and poverty.
Anyone who wants to see Ram Dass in person must come to Maui. He continues to lead gatherings called satsang at the Studio Maui—times of music, meditation and conversation. A flier for an upcoming satsang also promised “laughs,” to be expected around a man known for his wit, whose eyes twinkle even as his stroke-damaged speech tries to keep up with his thoughts.
He teaches in three areas: spiritual growth, conscious aging and dying. On Maui, Ram Dass is working on plans for a “green” cemetery (with simple biodegradable caskets, and no earth-polluting embalming fluids) and a center where people can be trained to work with a dying person, and the dying can create their own ceremonies for “engaging the deepest mystery of the universe”—death.
How to prepare for death? “Make friends with change in your life, and identify with your soul rather than your ego. You can find your soul by being loving toward people and things. Love coming out of you makes people you meet more loving,” says Ram Dass. And giving and receiving love is, on a practical level, “the plane of consciousness that is soul.”
Ed Case Case Study
Ed Case is a walking political paradox. A former U.S. congressman, he’s every inch the smoothly handsome, eloquent, accommodating middle-of-the-roader. Yet in his riveting, ultimately unsuccessful 2006 primary challenge to U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka, he revealed his other side: an occasionally ornery independent who, in his own words, “walks point” to get things done.
While other challengers might have treaded lightly on the issue of Senator Akaka’s age, Case put it front and center during his campaign. He boldly asserted that if the state’s other senator, Daniel Inouye, did not have a new colleague acquiring his own seniority and influence, Hawai‘i might risk losing all its clout in the Senate should its two incumbents—both 83 years old—leave office around the same time.
When Akaka’s campaign retaliated by painting the younger politician as too conservative for Hawai‘i Democrats, Akaka won the fractious primary with 54 percent of the vote. Case’s combativeness afterwards lingered on his website and in e-mail newsletters. He ascribed his defeat to a combination of “kupuna [elder] respect” on the part of voters, low voter turnout, and “machine politics.”
The man Honolulu Star-Bulletin endorsed for his “bipartisan bridge-building” stayed away from the post-primary unity breakfast to attend a memorial service for Japanese-American WWII veterans, and claimed the Democratic Party was “moving backwards.”
In his campaign, Case stressed his nonpartisan effectiveness during his own two terms in Congress. A centrist on national issues like Iraq and the budget, he had meanwhile been instrumental in helping to secure permanent protection of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as a national marine monument, and channeled more funds for small businesses and Native Hawaiian programs to his Second Congressional District.
Case’s background yields some clues to the brand of independent-minded moderation he displayed in the Hawai‘i State House—where, as majority speaker, he pushed for changes like civil-service reform—and in Congress. He describes himself as the son of a conservative father and adventurous mother. A fourth-generation Hawai‘i resident who attended Hilo’s public schools, Case graduated from Williams College in Massachusetts and Hastings Law School in San Francisco, and had both Mainland and local friends “from privilege and from poverty.” His maverick streak emerged when he took a year off after high school to work as a jackaroo—an apprentice cowboy—at an Australian sheep station.
Case enjoys practicing real-property and business law, but says, “I lost an election but I didn’t lose my desire to serve.” He was especially gratified by his community outreach efforts; he logged over a million flight miles between the Islands and D.C., hosting more than 130 “talk story” sessions here. He wants another shot at Congress or the governorship, although he’s “not in a huge rush.”
He wryly notes that “voters like an independent, except when they disagree with him,” but relishes the chance to once again represent the “grand, mainstream perspective” and yet take tough, single-minded stands for the voters. “I don’t put my head down and avoid problems. We need to acknowledge them and try to solve them.”
Ke‘eaumoku Kapu Modern Warrior
Ke‘eaumoku Kapu and his family live in Kaua‘ula Valley, high in the hills above Lahaina. It is his ancestral land, passed down from his great-grandfather. He has volumes of weathered maps and deeds to prove it. But he never stops fighting for it.
Kapu is the proverbial thorn in the side of developers and legislators. In and out of court for the last seven years, he challenges those he feels would take away his people’s rights and tell them how to live. Sometimes even his own people disagree with his strong stance, such as his opposition to the Maui ban on lay gillnet fishing. His eyes smolder when he describes the ban as “another attack on our birthright by Western society.”
Sometimes there are victories—such as last year’s reversal of a lower-court ruling that had granted Makila Land Company clear title to five acres at Kaua‘ula, and instead required the Second Circuit Court to consider Kapu’s genealogical claims to the land.
Sometimes there are setbacks, not only from the courts, but also from Nature herself. The February wildfires in Lahaina burned more than 1,000 acres, coming within 10 feet of the Kapus’ home and requiring them to be airlifted to safety.
To persevere, Kapu has tapped into his own internal fire. He is a kaukauali‘i (leader) of Na Koa Kau I Ka Meheu O Na Kupuna—“warriors who walk in the footsteps of their ancestors.” He leads Native Hawaiian men in the fierce protocols of ancient warriors, helping them to own their strength.
Kapu also has the strength of his family—three sons, two daughters and his wife, U‘ilani, who stand behind him in all that he does, every public meeting, every ceremony, every workday.
His words are not always diplomatic. His passion runs deep. He speaks out for the preservation of Native Hawaiian culture at public meetings and hearings, and as a member of numerous Maui boards and commissions, including the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ Native Hawaiian Historic Preservation Council and the Maui County Cultural Resources Commission.
He and U‘ilani helped found Kuleana Ku‘ikahi LLC to protect their land. “We became a voice, based on education, to reestablish kuleana [responsibility],” Kapu says.
Next door to the double-hulled canoe at Kamehameha Iki Park, he works to further the efforts of Hui O Wa‘a Kaulua, a nonprofit group dedicated to perpetuating the tradition of ocean voyaging in Hawaiian culture.
Long a critic of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, Kapu is involved in proposals to reestablish the ancient ‘aha moku system of land management, in which kupuna (elders) from each moku (district) help oversee the sustainability of natural resources. He sees the proposed system as a modern approach to traditional methods—much as he and his family are living at Kaua‘ula: rooted in tradition and culture, but making the most of contemporary reality.
They buy in bulk what they have to, like batteries, toilet paper. But they catch their fish from the sea, kill the pigs they raise, farm their own taro.
It hasn’t been an easy existence, especially in the months after the fire, rebuilding their homestead.
Don’t they ever get tired of fighting? “We can’t,” U‘ilani says simply.
“We have to groom our young ones to become leaders,” Kapu says. “We need to be the ones to take responsibility.”
Liz Janes-Brown Role Model
When Elizabeth Green arrived in 1960, the newly married 18-year-old wasn’t quite smitten with paradise. “I hated it,” she says. “I’d never seen a cockroach in my life until I got here. [Maui] seemed so provincial, so nothing to do.” She laughs. “The King Theater said ‘talkies shown here.’”
Her first house in Kihei, neglected by previous owners, teemed with bugs she was too frightened to kill. “One day I walked to Makena in tears. When I got home,” she says with a trace of lingering amazement, “the neighbors were washing the house.”
Although the marriage that brought her here ended, her attachment to Maui grew.
Today she’s known to many of us as Liz Janes-Brown: a stalwart community member and beloved local radio, newspaper and stage personality. After 12 years teaching English, she found a wider audience as one of Hawai‘i’s first female broadcasters, at KNUI Radio—back when radio was a lifeline for local news. “My goal as news director,” she says, “was to open The Maui News and not find anything we hadn’t covered.” Her enduring love for the medium is apparent in her regular broadcasts and fund-raising efforts for Hawai‘i Public Radio.
Radio, unfortunately, didn’t pay much. She moved on to The Maui News, covering various beats before landing on “Let’s Talk,” a Sunday column she describes as “conversations with friends that meld together.” It’s her platform to chat about Maui’s beautiful people and give us regular folks our 15 minutes of fame. (Back in the ‘70s, she penned more of a tongue-wagger for the bygone Maui Sun. She called it “Ni‘ele”—Hawaiian for nosy.)
At her desk at The Maui News, she cuts an impressive figure: tall without a hint of a slouch, her intelligent gaze softened by a ready smile. Her shoebox office is papered with inspirational slogans and flyers from local shows—many of which she reviewed or performed in. Theater is another enduring passion of hers, one that rewarded her with new love.
She met Paul Brown when cast as his wife in a local production of Company. They married in 2000, both assuming “Janes-Brown,” a blend of his surname with her maiden name. The couple’s numerous productions together range from Phantom to Our Town. In Wit, Liz bared all as Vivian, the leading lady whose life is overturned by a cancer diagnosis—a luminous performance underscored by her own battle with the disease.
Ten years ago, the discovery of precancerous cells prompted Janes-Brown to get a double mastectomy. A resolutely private person (despite her mile-long stage resume), she chose to share her experiences with cancer treatment in The Maui News. “I did the cancer thing because I wanted people to go and get checked,” she says.
Shortly after marrying Paul, she detected another suspicious lump. Paul supported her through chemotherapy and radiation, even shaved his head when she lost her hair. “The doctors told me I’d recover 70 percent,” she says. “I’m past that.”
She reemerged last October after her third, most invasive treatment, to a flood of letters to the editor welcoming back their “wonder woman” and “hero,” and praising her inspiring sense of humor and strength. As she’s swung the spotlight from our small, newsworthy moments to her own fragile mortality, Liz Janes-Brown has encouraged us to embrace the celebrity and the hero within each of us.
Venus Rosete-Hill Good Neighbor
When Venus Rosete-Hill left Maui in seventh grade to attend Kamehameha Schools on O‘ahu, she couldn’t understand why her new school taught the students “foreign” Western material along with Native Hawaiian culture.
Now the executive director of one of Maui’s most innovative, family-focused nonprofits, Rosete-Hill says that it wasn’t until she came home from college and began looking for employment that she realized the reasoning behind the way in which Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, founder of Kamehameha Schools, set up her estate.
“She wanted to create an educational institute that would teach young Hawaiian children the ways of Western society,” Rosete-Hill says. “She knew that change to the islands was inevitable. She also knew that the way of really sustaining our Hawaiian people would be to educate them to be able to contend and adapt.”
Rosete-Hill and her family were among the fortunate ones. For many Maui families, the difficulties of adaptation were almost insurmountable, leaving parents to struggle with unemployment, or worse, addiction and domestic violence—all too often compounded with child abuse and neglect.
A 1995 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development survey found that Native Hawaiians had the highest levels of unemployment, poverty and incarceration, and the lowest levels of education and health of any ethnic group statewide.
Closer to home, a 2000 state Department of Human Services report showed that Wailuku had the third-highest percentage of confirmed child-abuse and neglect cases per capita.
Working as a community facilitator in Wailuku in 2002, Rosete-Hill was determined to help Hawaiian families create a better future for their children. She envisioned a pu‘uhonua, a place of safety and peace. Not another faceless agency, but a place where a mother could find clothes for her children, a father could find counseling for job skills, a child could find help with homework. A place outside the box, teaching modern coping skills, but most importantly rooted in traditional Hawaiian values.
In April 2004, Rosete-Hill’s vision was made real with the establishment in Happy Valley of the Neighborhood Place of Wailuku—a place that is “anything the community needs it to be,” she says.
“We believe that parents and/or caregivers are their children’s first teachers,” Rosete-Hill says. “That means we honor parents, kupuna [elders] and others as the primary expert in their home. We humbly present ourselves as partners with them in supporting their efforts to achieve what’s best for their children and their ‘ohana [family].”
It’s an empowering approach that seems to be not only working for Happy Valley families, but catching on in the community.
Neighborhood Place was recently awarded a $1.3 million, three-year grant to develop a culturally based Native Hawaiian family-strengthening program. Through the Wailuku Ho‘onui Mana ‘Ohana Initiative, more than 260 at-risk families will participate in taro farming, native plant cultivation, ocean and stream fishing, canoe paddling, and other traditional practices on a lush, eight-acre site in Paukukalo.
Combined with structured classes and counseling sessions, the program is breaking new ground in social services, both through its partnership approach with families and other agencies (“We work collaboratively, no ego attached,” Rosete-Hill says), and through its focus on honoring the traditions of Hawaiian culture.
The best way to bring healing to the Hawaiian people? “Learn from the wisdom of our kupuna,” Rosete-Hill says—just as she learned from Princess Pauahi Bishop.
Everett Dowling Balancing Act
Not too many people on Maui make decisions that can change the face of the island—which is why Everett Dowling’s new green-building program puts him on our “most intriguing” list for the second year in a row.
As Dowling describes it, the documentary An Inconvenient Truth galvanized him to reach for “new tools for the toolbox . . . to further sustainable development and reduce our ecological footprint.”
Dowling has registered 10 projects (about 20 buildings, including 7 in his Kulamalu Town Center) for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. LEED holds buildings to the nationally recognized standards of the U.S. Green Building Council, and verifies that they truly are as green as their developers say. He’s already achieved certification for his own offices, which involved renovations from new daylight-maximizing windows to solar panels on the roof, all the way to dual-flush toilets and Green Seal-approved cleaning products.
With his pale shock of hair, serene self-assurance, and a policy wonk’s command of the issues of his profession, Dowling hardly fits the mold of a real-estate tycoon. But he’s become one of the island’s most prolific builders—as well as the target for ire. Critics view his controversial development on Makena Beach as one more incursion on precious open space, and a threat to the ecology of the area and its enjoyment by Maui residents and visitors.
That sentiment provokes some impatience in Dowling. “There’s a certain element that indulges in antidevelopment rhetoric, and I’m not going to try and change their minds.” But these days Dowling prefers to let his green actions speak more loudly for him. He points out that the project will establish new view corridors and feature retention basins and filtering systems for storm-water runoff to protect the near-shore coral reef.
Even opponents of Dowling acknowledge his services to the community. Following his credo of “building in balance,” his company develops projects on both ends of the economic spectrum: When completed, his Waiehu Kou Phase 4 and Villages of Leali‘i projects will provide affordable housing for more than 400 Native Hawaiian families. The Dowling Community Improvement Fund gave $156,415 to Kamali‘i Elementary School in Kïhei, which Dowling Company originally constructed. And Dowling furnished the Montessori School of Maui with a $50,000 “green grant” to help in its own drive for LEED certification. All in all, Dowling donated more than $600,000 to charities and community organizations in 2006.
Given some of Dowling’s statements about the financial upside of green building, including its value in mollifying antidevelopment resistance, some question if Dowling merely believes that going green is a trendy, politically correct bandwagon to ride to more development approvals.
But he has also stated, “Climate change is the most serious issue the world is facing, and we all have to make adjustments in our lifestyle.”
Dowling may be shrewd about the tradeoffs for good corporate citizenship, but there’s no question that he’s sincerely “built in balance” and gives back to the community—and that suggests Maui will see many more green buildings in its future.
Charmaine Tavares Leading lady
Mayor Charmaine Tavares has an advantage as she settles into her new job. “It’s almost like I had on-the-job training at home,” she says, sipping coffee in the ninth-floor office, with its panoramic views of Central and East Maui, where today’s paperwork is stacked on the same desk her father used. Hannibal Tavares, mayor from 1979 to1990, loved his job. He often talked about day-to-day issues and the future of Maui County, while Charmaine soaked it all in.
Having had the mayor for a father also helped when Tavares decided to run for the post. “People remembered him fondly,” she says. Voters would tell her, “Your family is okay, so you can’t be all that bad!” That’s fine with Charmaine Tavares. “They voted for me to give me the chance, and that’s all I wanted.”
Tavares’s campaign also received unexpected endorsements from Senator Daniel Inouye and from several labor unions, despite her being identified as a Republican. While Tavares has considered herself an independent since the county switched to nonpartisan elections in 2000, she calls Inouye’s support historic.
“It’s a sign of the times, when we forget about party affiliations and focus on community needs.”
Now Tavares is putting to use the lessons she learned from parents who taught that “we are to care for others,” from observing her father’s long career in public life, and from her own community involvement as a teacher, coach, volunteer, County Parks director and council member.
The new mayor spent much of the first two months of her administration dealing with crises—blazes that consumed the Polipoli forest and blackened the mountainside above Puamana, rock-slide threats caused by last October’s earthquake, and a January tsunami watch.
Then there was the budget. Tavares had to take over the complicated county budget process in midstream and meet a March 15 deadline.
Even before the budget-building marathon was complete, Tavares was starting to plan an energy summit for August or September. “I want to be an active player in the quest for sustainability,” she says. The summit will bring together people interested in various types of alternative energy to identify which ones will work for Maui.
Tavares is especially interested in encouraging biofuel crops.
“I want to see the central plain stay in agriculture,” she says. “We’ve seen what happens if we shut down a sugar plantation.” On Maui and around the state, closing plantations has led to job loss and the development of former agriculture lands. Growing biofuel crops could preserve agricultural land, employ the existing workforce, add high-tech jobs and eventually make Maui into “the center of the Pacific for training on how to be more sustainable.”
Other big issues on Tavares’s desk include improving county efficiency, increasing water supplies and encouraging the building of affordable housing. Having seen her opponent, Alan Arakawa, and previous mayor James “Kimo” Apana leave office after a single term, Tavares knows that, if she is to remain in the ninth-floor office her father once occupied, she’ll have to satisfy voters impatient for change.
Tommy Russo – Tommy Gun
He doesn’t look like the confrontational publisher of an alternative newspaper. Tommy Russo has bright eyes, a trim goatee and a friendly manner.
But he is the publisher of Maui Time Weekly, “Maui’s only locally owned independent newspaper,” which runs articles that may offend advertisers, politicians or power brokers; seeks the controversial side of stories glossed over by more mainstream publications; and prints provocative ads in an “adult services” back section.
“I don’t think I’m a radical dude,” says Russo; he believes his paper’s goal is to “raise awareness of the needs of the community as a whole over the needs of land developers.”
Russo says his paper serves the community by bringing to light stories missed by traditional media.
While many of its columns seem to have a strong antiestablishment point of view, if there’s any slant to the paper’s stories, Russo says, “we’re going to lean toward smart growth and anti-corruption.”
Many read Maui Time Weekly for the comprehensive events-and-entertainment calendar. Its editorial content includes often-caustic commentary on local businesses, government and the week’s news, and uses salty language not found in other local publications. It tackles subjects from sex to spirituality, ranks businesses as “the county’s most powerful player,” and covers the County Liquor Commission (which Russo says has absolute power and no checks and balances).
Russo says he refuses to run “puff pieces” on advertisers, because the paper’s commitment is not to those clients, but to the reader, who pays nothing for the publication. Though “we offend our clients all the time and lose them,” Russo believes “we’ve attracted clients because we have readers.”
“We love to hear people complain about us,” Russo says. He gets personal reactions “multiple times a day. People get passionate in regards to what we write.” Russo receives an occasional call from an attorney, but he insists that the paper has solid journalistic backing for its stories. “We don’t shoot from the hip.”
Russo came to Maui in 1997 at age 23 as a member of a college rock band. He realized that Maui lacked a paper like the alternative weeklies around the country that feature offbeat reporting and extensive entertainment calendars. With only his experience as an account executive for a small college newspaper, Russo decided to fill the gap.
He went back to the Mainland and ran a yard maintenance company until he could return with basic computer equipment and “enough money to print three issues.” He and his partner moved the desks each night to make space for the futons they slept on.
Today, Russo estimates the paper’s readership conservatively at 45,000. It is distributed for free, with an online version receiving about 2,500 hits a day. The newspaper has about a dozen employees, eight of them full time. Russo’s goal is to double the size of the 40-page paper.
Meanwhile, “we’re staying in business, we’re keeping the doors open, and we’re strengthening as a company,” while continuing to “raise some hell,” Russo says. “If I were to change the name of the newspaper, I’d change it to Nudge, because if we can nudge a few things in a direction that’s better for the community, we’ll be successful.”
Mike Moran – Regular Guy
Most people would not choose to have their names associated with human waste. For Kïhei resident Mike Moran, it’s the presence of the unthinkable in Maui’s coastal waters that is, well, unthinkable.
Moran is a founding member of Pump Don’t Dump, a group of activists dedicated to achieving a sewage-free marine environment. Having faced what Moran calls a “campaign of shaming” from the group, 21 of the 22 Ma‘alaea Harbor tour boats now pump waste from their holding tanks into trucks, for transport to treatment facilities. Federal law allows boats to dump into waters more than three miles offshore—which in leeward Maui translates to the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Moran says enforcement of state no-dumping laws covering that three-mile buffer is “weak at best.”
Though satisfied with the program, he sees the trucks as only a partial victory; Pump Don’t Dump is currently lobbying state politicians to officially request the Federal government to outlaw all dumping within the sanctuary. A permanent onshore pump at Ma‘alaea is scheduled for completion in 2009.
Moran, who works from home as a transportation broker—“It has absolutely nothing to do with my environmental work”—calls the issue a “no-brainer.” His activism has included passing out flyers on his bicycle, talking with beachgoers (although he has “mixed emotions about ruining people’s days by telling them what’s in the water”), helping organize monthly demonstrations at the harbor, and testifying in front of politicians. Most of all, he considers himself a letter writer—one a week to the editor of The Maui News—who he says has been more than accommodating in printing them. He has written countless others to county and state officials.
Neither activism nor sewage was on the New Jersey native’s mind during his many visits to Maui, nor when he finally moved from Southern California in 2000. Then one morning, during his daily swim at Keawakapu Beach, he encountered a floating mass of feces. “That one occurrence prompted me to inquire with other ocean users,” he says. “One of them said it might have come from a tour boat.”
Thus began Moran’s letter-writing campaign, which led to the formation of Pump Don’t Dump.
Beyond a few hostile boat employees—Moran remembers one man greeting a demonstration with “a few choice words and a one-finger gesture that definitely wasn’t a nautical sign”—he says response from operators and the public has been mostly positive. Jim Coon, president of the Ocean Tourism Coalition and owner of Trilogy Excursions (the first Ma‘alaea tour company to stop dumping), sees Moran as an ally, rather than an adversary. “Mike’s done an effective job of using a variety of ways to focus attention on this issue,” he says. “I applaud his efforts.”
Moran stresses that he is just one member of a committed group. “I have the biggest mouth for sure,” he says, but “I’m no public figure. And if it were just me doing this, it wouldn’t have happened. I have no special talents; my forte is being stubborn—some people call it persistence.” Either way, their successful activism has proven the axiom that a small number of dedicated people can, in fact, make a big difference.