Story by Catherine Cluett
In the weeks before last year’s election, Glenn Davis made a sign, “Glenn Davis for Mayor,” and attached it to his bicycle basket to be seen by all in Kaunakakai who watched him pedal by. Davis is known around town for helping elderly residents with their groceries, volunteering to pump gas for tourists and locals alike and delivering the local newspaper every week— in other words, he was perfect for the office for which he was running (and pedaling). And he won by a landslide. 888That office—Honorary Mayor of Kaunakakai—has its roots in a philosophy that a former honorary mayor describes like this: “It’s good to share—anybody comes, I give to you. That’s my style. I always take people fish if they need help. … It’s the people who make Moloka‘i what it is.” Kili Mawae, who served in the late 1990s, is the mayor behind those words. 888Where did it come from, the idea of an office dedicated specifically to generosity and kindness? What’s known about the tradition traces, believe it or not, to a Hollywood movie star: Warner Baxter, who played the Cisco Kid in the 1928 film In Old Arizona. One day in the 1930s, Moloka‘i’s community gathered with much anticipation at Kaunakakai Wharf awaiting the arrival of a boat carrying Baxter. “When the people of Moloka‘i heard about his coming, they were so happy,” says Pilipo Solatorio, himself another of Kaunakakai’s honorary mayors. “They knew him as the guy who rides the wild horses.” Solatorio heard stories of Baxter’s time on Moloka‘i from Harriet Ne, who’d danced the hula at a lü‘au for Baxter. That lü‘au was made famous by the quirky ballad written by R. Alex Anderson that memorializes Baxter’s visit and the subsequent naming of him as mayor: “The Cockeyed Mayor of Kaunakakai.” True to Moloka‘i’s spirit, residents shared generously with Baxter at the lu‘au, and he was soon drunk, or “cockeyed.” As the lyrics of the song tell the story of Baxter’s visit: “He wore a lei and he wore a smile/He drank a gallon of oke to make life worthwhile/He made ’em laugh until he made ’em cry/ He was the cockeyed mayor of Kaunakakai.” 888Baxter was named mayor of Kaunakakai for his fame, but it was the town’s next honorary mayor, Mitchell Pau‘ole, who really instituted the office. Born in 1888 Pau‘ole was “a true Molokaian with aloha spirit,” says Solatorio. “No one can replace that. He would wave to every car that went by.” In the mid-1900s Pau‘ole was a fixture at the airport, meeting visitors as they arrived. He took the honorary position seriously— and when Solatorio was elected the next mayor, Pau‘ole gave him a long list of responsibilities. During Solatorio’s tenure he not only helped local families in need, but he traveled as an ambassador for Hawai‘i. 888In those days the Moloka‘i Jaycees organized the mayoral election; when that group dissolved, other local organizations took up the task. But by the time Kili Mawae was named honorary mayor in the late 1990s, the tradition had somewhat disintegrated. “At 8 a.m. one morning they called me and told me, ‘Good morning, Mr. Mayor,’” recalls Mawae matter-of-factly. Still, the position’s true intent remained, he says. Eventually, though, Kaunakakai found itself mayorless. Ten years passed before the owner of Moloka‘i’s Kalele Bookstore, Teri Waros, last year decided it was high time to revive the tradition. 888“All our kupuna [elders] work so hard and show that with compassion and communal effort we come together,” says Waros. “Voting for honorary mayor is just a chance to say thank you.” And so the tradition was reborn last November at an election held, appropriately, at the Mitchell Pau‘ole Center. Residents voted by placing pennies in the buckets of their favorite nominees. After everyone had put in their two cents, Davis estimated he’d collected more than $150 in pennies, which he promptly donated to two local organizations. “It’s kinda neat being appreciated,” he says, a smile lighting up his bearded face. His term runs until this November 23— and then Moloka‘i votes again.