Danny Mateo – Making a Difference for Molokai

March 30, 2012, 12:29 PM HST · Updated April 2, 10:51 AM
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By Susan Halas

mateo with pix damien of molokai

Council Chairman Danny Mateo has represented Molokai for five terms. Susan Halas photo.

Council member Danny Mateo, 60, of Molokai says he’s Filipino, but he definitely has the charm of the Irish.

He’s personable, articulate and easy to understand. Currently he’s finishing up his fifth term on the Maui County Council where he has served as its chairman for the last four years. Since he’s reached his term limit and will not be able to run again, many are curious about his future plans.

Those plans are “not a mystery,” he said. He will not seek another elected office; however he would be interested in “continuing as a lobbyist for the county at the state legislature if asked.”

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When asked what’s on the table for the remainder of this year his comments turned to the Maui Island Plan, the council’s upcoming budget deliberations for 2013  and the status of bills at the legislature that can affect Maui.

Maui Island Plan

“If people took the time to read it they would be in shock,” he  said. Mateo agreed with Maui planning director Will Spence that the level of detail currently in the plan really belongs in the various community plans.

While he is sure the council “will not reject the plan entirely,” he observed that what will eventually emerge from committee “is still fluid.” He urged residents to take a look at the plan and let the council know their views. “Whatever we pass will affect Maui as a whole through 2030.”

In his view getting the plan right is  “a balancing act” of stimulating growth while retaining the county’s natural beauty and agricultural base. His advice is: “Be informed, participate and have a voice.”

County of Maui Budget 2013: CIP and Non-Profits

Mateo had a mixed response to the mayor’s recent proposal calling for large capital improvement projects. “An arena… a sports complex…. a new gym…,” he said, the ticking them off on his fingers. These are big ticket items.” These he thinks are “good ideas but maybe this is not the time. Paying for them, that’s a big question.”

danny mateo in his office

Mateo thinks big CIP are good ideas. "But maybe this is not the time. Paying for them that's the big question." Susan Halas photo.

His top priorities are: “core services: fire, police, trash, sewer – the basic necessities are at the top of my list.”

He is also ready to rethink the council’s relationship to non-profit organizations, pointing out that “the county now spends over $30 million a year in aid to such groups.” This amount he said is “many times more than any other county.” He feels that it’s time for consolidation and review. “There is too much overlapping and duplication. The pie has become a tart.”

There are many things that Mateo likes about the current council, which he called “the best I’ve been on.” He likes the way the members get along with each other and the way the body interacts with the mayor and administration.  Mateo likes his role as the council’s lobbyist at the state legislature, but observed, sometimes Maui lawmakers “forget they’re from Maui when they get there.”

Komoda Cream Puffs at Capitol

He declined to say exactly who those legislators might be, but reiterated that it’s important for the council to stay on top of all the hundreds of bills that can have a lasting effect here at home.

Mateo pointed out this year there are several bills at the legislature that would grant certain state projects exemptions from environmental laws. “I am certainly hesitant about that,” he said. “It’s about home rule. The state shouldn’t be dictating what direction we are going to go in. That should be the say of the local government.”

He is also not happy about the way the state takes a big bite of locally-generated revenues from parking tickets to the transient accommodation tax (TAT). “It goes to the state and not so much of it come back here.”

Speaking about his lobbying activities Mateo identified his secret weapon: “I make friends with the secretaries and bring them cream puffs from Komoda’s. If they like you they’ll find a way to get you in.”

Paying Attention

Mateo may not be running himself, but he is paying close attention to the races that are coming up. He’s hopeful that even more candidates will run for public office. “People need choices,” he said. He is hoping more qualified candidates will step forward. “This is not about popularity. Those days are over. It’s about delivering for the people you represent.”

He also sees 2012 as an important year for voters and candidates of Filipino ancestry. As the son of a sakada, the group of Filipinos who came over to Hawaii in 1929, he’s proud of his heritage and aware this ethnic group plays an important role at election time. He noted that a number of Filipinos are running, talking about running, or in some cases, running against each other.

Representing Molokai

Mateo did not take a direct route to becoming the Molokai representative on the council. He was born in Puunene, raised in Paia and later moved to Makawao. He was living on the Big Island in 1974 when offered a position on Molokai with a company that rented both cars and provided mules for the Kalaupapa trail ride. “At one point we had 34 cars and 38 mules,” he recalled.

In 1997 he went to work for Pat Kawano, a former Molokai county council member, as an executive assistant. When Kawano died in 2002 Mateo was appointed to fill the vacant seat and was subsequently reelected four times.

He’s proud of what he’s been able to do for Molokai in the ten years he’s served the council.

“For so long Molokai was a step child— it lacked services. No one paid attention to it.” Some of the recent improvements that have gone to the Friendly Isle are: a new fire station, new parks and recreation facilities and a pubic works base yard to name a few.

Not surprisingly, some of the people Mateo admires come from the world of politics. He likes Shan Tsutsui, a young legislator from Maui who serves as Hawaii State Senate President. He also looked up to Pablo Caldito, who recently passed away. He pointed to Caldito as “the first elected Filipino in public service.” Mateo said, “Pablo taught us to be proud of who you are, hang on to your culture and be willing to contribute.”

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