So, how did Jerome Freitas come to be the man known as “The Shadow?”
Let him explain.
“One day (2004) I was driving around and I ran into a rather large pothole in the road. So I decided to commit from that day on that I would go on my own and take pictures of public safety issues, whether it may be on the county or state level,” he said.
When he began what he calls a public safety crusade, his calls to the county were anonymous. He called so frequently, he said, that when someone with the county asked him to identify himself. He refused.
“When I finally came into the office, someone said, ‘Oh, I know you. From now, we’re going to call you “the shadow”, so when you call we know who.’”
Once the Kauai native identifies what he believes is a safety concern, here’s what happens next:
He goes to the scene with camera, note pad and cell phone.
He takes pictures, jots down the date and a description of what he sees.
He gets on the phone to the department heads at the county or state.
He asks questions and gets answers for his column, “Da Shadow’s Corner,” that publishes every other Sunday in The Garden Island.
And over the past 10 years, his doggedness has paid off, he says. Government has been taken action. Improvements have been made. The public, the taxpayers, are safer, Freita says.
“They’re using our money,” he says of government. “They have to be accountable.”
To this day, the 71-year-old fights the good fight. He is colorful, animated, talkative, with a head full of blacked, slicked-back hair, Elvis style. He meets with officials and discusses safety issues that he or community members have seen. He takes pride in his efforts. He feels, he says, a responsibility to look out for the residents, and visitors, on Kauai.
“My areas of all safety concerns cover the whole island of Kauai,” he says, “from Haena on the North Shore to Kekaha on the West side — and also Niihau,” he adds.
He emphasizes that, “Your concern will always be his concern.”
Yes, indeed, The Shadow still lurks.
TGI: What’s your motivation as The Shadow?
Jerome Freitas: We want to work together. We want to make Kauai a safe island. A lot of local people here on Kauai, a lot of tourists, they come from all over the world. We want a safe island people enjoy. I think it’s very helpful. A lot of people call me up. It’s a good column and people can enjoy getting involved. People call me and tell me about stuff.
TGI: Don’t you trust the government to take care of things?
JF: If you want to really know how government operates, you have to be in that circle. We have to make sure the people that run the government work for us, as taxpayers. It’s our responsibility to make sure everything is OK.
TGI: Do you think you’ve had an impact on government operations?
JF: Yes. They might have done some of the things I asked about, but it might have taken longer. If you’re persistent and keep on pushing them, they’re going to do it. They do a lot of things. I’m not saying they don’t do anything, but sometimes, you have to keep on pushing them, more and more and more.
Not only the county, but on a state level.
I like to get in there, talk to them, and the Garden Island puts in the newspaper. It benefits the community. I just get in there and do what I’m doing.
TGI: Do readers respond?
JF: I get a lot of emails and phone calls. When the paper comes out on Sunday, people call. They have some very good questions.
TGI: Any issues you want to go after?
JF: Right now, we have a lot of people on Kauai, almost 70,000, and our traffic is real bad. It’s been like this for many, many years. There are a lot of things trying to improve the traffic, but so far, they didn’t work.
I remember years ago they wanted to make a back road, mountainside. Come all the way back, then you end up in Lihue. But I guess the merchants in Kapaa didn’t want that. They said they would lose business. I think right now, the most important thing is the traffic. More things have to be done. The most crucial thing is the traffic, right now.
TGI: Can you talk about your background?
JF: I went to St. Catherine’s school here on Kauai. I graduated there in 1957. I went to Kapaa High School and graduated in 1961. From there, I was in the National Guard Reserve. A lot of my friends went to Vietnam, but I didn’t go because my time was already up.
I lived in Honolulu for almost 15 years. At the time, I was a meat cutter. From there, I moved back home here, then I worked for the state. I retired in 2004.
TGI: What do you do when you’re not working on public safety.
JF: I live with my mom. She’s 90 years old right now. I’m a caregiver for her, and I’ve been doing that for about 10 years. My family also comes and helps me out. I have time to go out in the afternoons when the nurses visit her.
TGI: Will you ever leave Kauai?
JF: I lived in San Francisco before and lived in Honolulu, then I came back here. I’m here for good, now. I’m a great-grandfather now. And I’m The Shadow.
TGI: What’s your secret to the youthful look?
JF: I don’t drink or smoke.
I believe in the creator. He’s the main one who helps me out.
TGI: Would you have a final message from The Shadow for our readers?
JF: We have to protect our island. This is a beautiful island. I think our job is taking care of the island, take care of the land, the land will take care of you. It’s not what the island can do for you. It’s what you can do for the island.
Jerome Freitas, “The Shadow,” can be reached at (808) 635-3528 or his website theshadow96746.tripod.com. His website, by the way, shares this message: “Wake up, Kauai people! There are a lot more serious problems on Kauai than potholes. Just ask Elvis! Jerome is now recruiting silhouettes! What is your main concern? Where do you want to see our watchdogs next?”
He says the concerns of all callers will be kept confidential.