Top 250 20th Anniversary
This August marks the 20th anniversary of Hawaii Business’ Top 250 list, our signature ranking of companies by their gross annual sales. In March, we launched a series of stories to recognize this milestone, featuring the businesses and people who have graced our magazine over the years. This is the fifth installment of a six-part series.
The Scam Artist
It was one of the biggest and most perplexing corporate scandals in Hawaii history. In August 1983, the investment firm of Bishop, Baldwin, Rewald, Dillingham and Wong imploded, costing its 418 embarrassed investors some $20 million. The Gatsby-like Ron Rewald camouflaged his company with bogus kamaaina ties and dazzled friends and associates with lavish parties, polo matches and luxurious estates. His scam took in some of Hawaii’s best and brightest.
Rewald was convicted in 1985 and sentenced to 80 years in federal prison. However, he was released 10 years later, after a back injury left him in a wheelchair.
Hernia In A BoxIntroduced in late 1981, the Osborne was the first truly portable computer. At 24.5 pounds, that claim to fame is debatable. The Osborne boasted a five-inch green monitor and 64k of RAM. Data was stored on floppy disks. At $1,795, the Osborne was quite a bargain for its time. However, we hope that not too many people went out and bought one after seeing this ad in the January 1983 issue of Hawaii Business. In September of that year, the Osborne Computer Co. went bankrupt.
Read His Lips
From the Shoe Is on the Other Foot Department, we found this July 1983 cover story, “Raising Taxes, Rising Tempers,” about Kauai’s skyrocketing property taxes. Our cover model was none other than Jeremy Harris, then a Garden Isle councilman, who was a leading voice in a fledgling tax-revolt movement. In 1983, one out of every 10 property owners on Kauai filed an appeal of their tax assessment, some of which had increased by as much as 900 percent. The tax opponents claimed that the county was balancing its budget on the backs of property owners. At the time, 64 percent of Kauai County’s tax revenues came from property taxes.
In the article, Associate Editor Michael Schmicker raised the possibility that Kauai might someday enact a Proposition 13-type initiative (the 1978 California law that slashed property taxes by 30 percent): “If the county exercises fiscal self-control and develops new tax bases besides property, any Howard Jarvis-type initiative can easily be averted, Harris believes. But if it doesn’t, all bets are off, he warns. ‘I don’t think it would be good for Kauai, but it’s preferable to the course we’re on.’”
Twenty years later, in an effort to balance a $1.178 billion operating budget, Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris proposed increasing property tax rates on single-family homes by 2.7 percent and nonresidential categories by 15 percent.
In 1984, Harris was again featured in a Hawaii Business cover story, this time about Kauai’s 15 most powerful people. That year, Harris was running for mayor and Hawaii Businessforecasted that Harris was “a good bet” to take the primary election, since opponents Tony Kunimura and Roy Hiram would likely split the democratic vote. They didn’t, and Kunimura won the election. Later that year, Harris moved to Oahu and was appointed executive assistant to Mayor Frank Fasi.
We were wrong about the election, but we were pretty spot-on when it came to our assessment of Harris, especially in light of his recent political problems. In our August 1984 issue, Associate Editor Elyse Tanouye wrote: “Some also see Harris as an opportunist, who is committed more to his political career rather than to a particular principle or ideology – he is seen as taking on issues that will build him support, dropping them if they don’t … But those are all pretty minor points; his job is to be a politician, and he’s good at it. Moreover, he’s survived, despite changing political sentiments and moods, where many others haven’t. And staying power goes hand-in-hand with influence.”