A New Look Is Just The Start For Neil

Hawai'i Gov. Neil Abercrombie addresses the crowd during his inauguration ceremony

I believe I finished last week’s column by describing campaigner Neil Abercrombie as a “drab” dresser.

Obviously I wrote before watching his inauguration ceremony. On that day, our new guv put all the men – and a fair number of the ladies – to sartorial shame.

Abercrombie marched to the Iolani Palace bandstand in white suit, pink shirt and a darker floral pink tie.

The outfit could only be described as “Wow!”

Maybe “Superwow!” Add the governor’s beard to the ensemble, and I doubt that Hawaii inaugurals have ever seen anything like it – certainly not on the bandstand itself.

The ceremony was equally wow. It started 20 minutes early, as if the always-ebullient Abercrombie – despite his 72 years, 32 of which as an elected official he’s been attending such ceremonial functions – were a kid who couldn’t wait to get on his first playground. It included, along with the traditional Hawaiian chants and 19-gun salutes, Willie K singing in Italian and – get this – a young slam poet named Kealoha announcing in slam verse A New Day in Hawaii.

The oratory was hardly wow, but I liked it nonetheless. Newly sworn-in Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz described the nation’s politics as “enflamed by extremes” and warned that “Hawaii must not follow this angry road.”

The 38-year-old Schatz also had a warning for his fellow 30-somethings: “Stop complaining about things.

Get involved. Democracy is not what we have, it is what we do. Hawaii was built by people our age.” He finished with a call for a new era of cooperation based on “Island principles, island hope, all of us together.”

Abercrombie rose to speak of a “heart that is full,” of how when he arrived in Hawaii a half-century earlier “it never occurred to me that I’d stand here.” That full heart overflowed at least twice during his speech.

So too did his intellect – first in stating the spirit in which he wanted his administration to proceed. Abercrombie cited Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian/ethicist who was imprisoned and martyred to the Nazis during World War II and whose writings became required reading in post-war seminaries. Amid the horrors of war and imprisonment, Bonhoeffer wrote of “the need for joy,” that “if you serve the Lord with gladness, joy overcomes.”

Abercrombie echoed Schatz in reminding his audience that cooperation and caring were the order of the day, invoking the Dalai Lama: “If you neglect the welfare of others, ultimately you will be very lonely.”

Abercrombie reminded his audience that “we are an island people,” and returned to Bonhoeffer and his injunction that “civic courage” is required of a free people. Abercrombie then called on Frances Perkins, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor. In the throes of the Great Depression, Perkins insisted the nation needed “a public conscience.”

Less than an hour after the inaugural’s benediction, Abercrombie met the press in his new fifth-floor office. There he demonstrated his “joy,” needling the press, kidding himself, and making fun of the departments of Budget and Finance and Accounting and General Services, describing them in hushed tones as “a deep mystery.”

But he dealt with matters of “public conscience” as well, releasing $67 million from the Hurricane Relief Fund to end teacher furloughs on instructional days.

Not a drab first day at all for the resplendent Gov. Abercrombie.

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