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Johnson inspired by Elle Cochran’s achievements

By Staff | Oct 14, 2010

Jo Anne Johnson (right) has endorsed Elle Cochran in the race for the West Maui County Council seat.

WEST MAUI — “While it is often said that a leopard doesn’t change its spots, we all know that ‘people’ can change if they truly wish to,” West Side County Councilwoman Jo Anne Johnson wrote in a recent endorsement of Elle Cochran.

“Elle is living proof of this truth and an inspiration to all,” the retiring legislator added.

For the past month, Cochran’s bid for Johnson’s seat on the Maui County Council has been a roller coaster ride, from her upward climb to the top of the heap by winning the primary to controversy over the events of her past exposed in the press.

In the 1990s, the frontrunner was convicted of a felony — second-degree attempted theft — and discharged after successfully completing the terms of her five-year probation.

Although challenged by the recent coverage, Cochran is positive about her candidacy against Alan Fukuyama for the West Side seat.

“I bring the strength to persevere through adversity, challenging times. I bring empathy for those who are going through what I did and be a positive role model for them. I can better relate to the needs of the less fortunate and help to make programs/non-profits more effective and efficient. The Program (AA/NA) teaches you to be of service to others. I have lived this for nearly 17 years. It’s a way of life, not a job,” she told the Lahaina News in a recent interview.

Questions about transparency have followed the story breaking in the press.

“What’s up with Elle Cochran not revealing her criminal background? She belonged to several boards and groups, like DIRE, Akaku, FACE, Save Honolua Coalition and Maui United to name a few,” Lahaina resident Bryan Tallen noted in a letter to Lahaina News last week.

“Why was her felony not discussed, so her supporters could know her full profile during the primary?”

In each case, on the radio and in print, Cochran has been direct in her responses.

“I have not been hiding it. I have discussed it and said openly when and where appropriate. The trust in me was reflected in the votes for me — the Elle I am today. The Elle people have seen working hard in the community for years now. I walk my talk. I believe actions speak louder than words. Lead by example is my motto,” the council hopeful said.

Johnson was aware of Cochran’s past “transgressions.”

“When Elle approached me several years ago about running for a seat on the Maui County Council, she fully disclosed her past history to me, including events recently discussed on the front page of The Maui News. I advised her that as long as there was no legal issue prohibiting her from seeking office, she should most certainly pursue her dream of public service.

“I believe that having successfully faced such challenges,” Johnson continued, “Elle is a more compassionate and caring person toward others facing difficulties in their lives. As her mentor, I also advised Elle that if and when this information was made public, she be prepared to address the issue head on. She has shown her true inner strength and personal integrity in doing just that.

Other West Side leaders and neighbors have come forward to speak on behalf of Cochran, the person, a Lahaina girl, born and raised.

Historical novelist Catherine Smith was sincere in her testimony about Cochran.

“I was shocked to think that the Elle I know today could have been involved with that fracas. The reason I am shocked is that the Elle I know is a straight arrow — a community-minded gal who is not a follower, but a leader. She faces the challenge of public scrutiny head on, but acknowledges that Boyd Mossman and others supported her in her recovery from addiction. What you see is what you get with Elle — transparent, bright, curious to know the answers and a will to do what’s right.

“Now I understand the source of Elle’s compassion and empathy for others. She has survived bad times and hit bottom. She understands that righteousness is not something that comes without work and hard choices. She is a good citizen, because she chose to be one. I have a lot of respect for her,” the Kapalua resident commented.

Lahaina Town Cleanup coordinator Matt Lane is vocal in his support of Cochran.

“Elle is so passionate about doing what is pono for Maui,” Lane said. “We can count on that! It’s good to know that we can trust her; and, if we have any questions or concerns, we can meet up and ask what’s going on. She is an open door to the community — the way it should be.”

Artist Ellen Levinsky, West Side community volunteer, has known the candidate for three years and met her at Save Honolua Coalition meetings.

“I have known about her past for two years,” Levinsky acknowledged. “I admire people who have the perseverance and the determination to make extreme positive changes in their lives…

“Not only has Elle been clean and sober for 17 years, but she has donated many hours to support positive action for the community of Maui Nei. She is a strong inspiration to me. She is always positive and has endless energy. Her patience and willingness to listen to people while striving for a sensible solution indicates she will be a great County Council representative,” Levinsky added.

Retired Circuit Court Judge Boyd P. Mossman sentenced Cochran in 1994.

In an interview with the Lahaina News, he shared his experience with Cochran.

“I met Elle Cochran about a year-and-a-half ago. At that point in time, she was a contributing citizen in the Lahaina community. When I met with her, she is the one that reminded me that I had sentenced her and given her a break. I do not exactly remember that, because I sentenced hundreds — if not thousands — of people,” Mossman said.

“Anybody who comes from a criminal background, especially involving drugs, and can get back into society and the community, and contribute as she has, is a success as far as I am concerned,” he added, when asked about Cochran’s progress.

“I have seen her a few times since that time,” the Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee added. “She seems to be a woman of her word.”