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Editor's Page: Fatal Promises

Conditions at Mayor Wright Homes have a death toll.


This 1952 photo shows Mayor Wright Homes when it was new and full of promise.

Photo: Linny Morris

TJ Mori is dead.

The 24-year-old father of three lived in Mayor Wright Homes, a state-run public housing facility. He was stabbed to death there, allegedly by another resident, Takson Krstoth, 21.

Sadly, we weren’t surprised. Associate editor Tiffany Hill was already working on this month’s exposé on conditions at Mayor Wright Homes (“Public Housing Hell,”) when Mori was killed. Resident after resident had told her how afraid they were. Gangs and crime had become as pervasive as rats and roaches in the Kalihi complex.

Read the piece. On a professional level, I was proud of Tiffany for bringing us the story. There’s no better use of our pages than telling you the truth about what goes on in Hawaii. On a personal level, I’m angry. I read it and remembered state prisons that once mismanaged their way into a federal consent decree, state hospitals for the mentally ill that did the same, state-run education that consistently underperforms. So, I’m going to set aside my editor’s hat for a moment.

What are we to make of Democrats who tell us they’re the only ones who care about the poor, the sick and the old? To hear them speak, especially come election season, Democrats are the only ones holding back an impending tidal wave of inhumanity in America. Hawaii provides an interesting test of that rhetoric. The Democratic Party has owned state government in a nearly unbroken monopoly of political power for more than half a century, for as long as Mayor Wright Homes has been in its care. What did we get, as a society, for that? What did the residents of Mayor Wright Homes get?

Rats. Roaches. Bedbugs. Now, murder.

Either the philosophy of government behind Mayor Wright is flawed, or its adherents have been incompetent. Now the gap between the “save the poor” puffery of politicians and the execution of their plan to save the poor is literally actionable. Lawyers for Equal Justice had to file a class action lawsuit against the state for failing to meet its obligations to the residents of Kuhio Park Terrace, another notoriously mismanaged public housing project, and then Mayor Wright Homes.

It was these lawsuits that preceded Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s photo op in June, when he restored hot running water to Mayor Wright residents as if he were Moses striking the rock. But don’t forget the first response the public housing lawsuits prompted. The state fought them. It spent tax dollars to deny the undeniable.

Quite likely, the state will settle with Mayor Wright residents, as it did with residents of Kuhio Park Terrace. Quite likely, the state will then, finally, improve some conditions at Mayor Wright.

At best, this will be redress, but without justice or accountability. The state, and the party that owns it, will shrug, pay its lawyers, and move on, without a moment’s reflection, without a shred of self-doubt or self-criticism.

And TJ Mori will still be dead.


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Honolulu Magazine July 2020
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