Civil Beat Staff

Kirstin Downey

Kirstin Downey, a local girl who went to Kailua High School and then Penn State University, has returned home to the islands. She covers the federal government and its myriad effects on the lives of the people of Hawaii.

Kirstin had an award-winning career on the mainland, climbing from small newspapers in Colorado and Florida to bigger ones in major cities. At the San Jose Mercury in Silicon Valley in the 1980s, Kirstin wrote about the dwindling supply of low-income housing in the region and how rampant real estate speculation was damaging the banking industry. Her work foreshadowed the savings and loan crash of the early 1990s, and she covered the nation’s response as a reporter at the Washington Post.

At the Washington Post, Kirstin won six regional reporting awards for her coverage of economic, political and financial issues. She was a finalist for the Livingston award for outstanding young journalist in America for her series of stories on how investors had abused government loan programs to profiteer and destroy inner-city neighborhoods in the District, contributing to the growing social woes there. She used land records and mortgage filings to document the patterns. Her coverage contributed to what became the largest single set of prosecutions in the history of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, leading to more than 50 convictions.

Kirstin was awarded a Nieman fellowship at Harvard University in 2000-2001 after writing many stories about sexual harassment in the workplace, a social problem that came to light in depositions and documents filed in dozens of class-action lawsuits around the country.

She covered the terrorist attacks in New York City in 2001, writing about the events of the day and the tragic impact on human lives and the U.S. economy, as well as the mysterious follow-on anthrax attacks.

From 2005 to 2007, Kirstin wrote dozens of stories chronicling the dangerous growth of toxic mortgages, repeatedly raising concerns to government agencies that should have been doing more to stop the looming crisis. She emphasized the human impact of the problems, including the foreclosures that devastated families. In 2007, she used data-driven reporting to write in-depth stories describing the pernicious effect of toxic loans targeted and marketed to minorities, immigrants and young families.

She shared in the Pulitzer Prize awarded to the Washington Post’s metro staff in 2008 for coverage of the campus massacre at Virginia Tech. Kirstin wrote pieces profiling the two heroic professors who died that day protecting their students.

After leaving the Post, Kirstin served as an investigator and writer for the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, (the Angelides Commission), which published a New York Times-bestselling book on the causes and implications of the economic meltdown of 2008. She wrote the section of the book that detailed the many specific warnings that were ignored by corporations and top government officials.

Kirstin loves history. She is a book author, published by Nan Talese at Doubleday/Random House. Her biography of Frances Perkins, “The Woman Behind the New Deal,” a portrait of the country’s most effective progressive, was named one of the top 10 biographies of the year by the American Library Association. Her book about the controversial Queen Isabella of Spain, “Isabella the Warrior Queen,” was named to BBC’s list of Ten Books to Read, November 2014 and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times award for best biography of the year. The book has been translated into Spanish, Polish and Chinese.

Kirstin and her husband, Neil Averitt, live in Honolulu. Together they have five children. She is trying to learn to speak Hawaiian, and finding it very difficult.

How A Massachusetts Library Became ‘A Hotbed of Hawaiiana’ Courtesy of American Antiquarian Society

How A Massachusetts Library Became ‘A Hotbed of Hawaiiana’

If you were researching the islands’ history, it’s not likely you’d think of heading to Worcester, but maybe you should.

Defense Buildup Includes Hundreds Of Millions Of Dollars For Hawaii Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Defense Buildup Includes Hundreds Of Millions Of Dollars For Hawaii

The North Korea threat and concerns about military readiness prompt Congress to propose spending more than President Trump sought.

Should Papahanaumokuakea Be Open For Business? Courtesy: NOAA

Should Papahanaumokuakea Be Open For Business?

GOP lawmakers want restrictions lifted on fishing, mining and energy exploration — even though experts say there is no oil and gas there.

How Brian Schatz Is Becoming The Senate’s Chief Science Nerd Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

How Brian Schatz Is Becoming The Senate’s Chief Science Nerd

From data security to climate change, from net neutrality to telemedicine, the Hawaii senator is front and center on technology issues.

Man With Hawaii Roots On Verge Of Top Border Enforcement Post U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Man With Hawaii Roots On Verge Of Top Border Enforcement Post

Kevin Kealoha McAleenan is already acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and enjoys bipartisan support.

Bipartisan Push To Expand Medicaid Spending On Drug Addiction Flickr.com

Bipartisan Push To Expand Medicaid Spending On Drug Addiction

Tulsi Gabbard co-sponsored the Road to Recovery Act, but Colleen Hanabusa fears it could force spending cuts elsewhere.

Congressional Crackdown On The Shark Fin Trade Nancy Boucha/Marine photobank, courtesy of Oceana

Congressional Crackdown On The Shark Fin Trade

Harvesting shark fins has long been prohibited but loopholes in their sale has allowed an underground trade to continue.

Gabbard Denounces Democratic Party’s National Leaders Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Gabbard Denounces Democratic Party’s National Leaders

She releases a video and a statement calling for Democrats to “take our party back from the special interests of a powerful few.”

Why Does This Guy Make Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz Nervous? Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Why Does This Guy Make Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz Nervous?

Barry Myers is Trump’s nominee to head NOAA but the Hawaii senator says he is “questionable choice.”

The Last Hawaiian Princess? Photo by Joe Pacheco, Bishop Museum

The Last Hawaiian Princess?

At 91, Abigail Kawananakoa has been a significant benefactor of Native Hawaiian culture and causes throughout a life of privilege and drama. But controversy still haunts her.

Here’s One More Reason To Be Scared Of Cheap Sushi Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Here’s One More Reason To Be Scared Of Cheap Sushi

A new federal report warns that imported fish often contains dangerous drug residue.

Congressman Blasts Fishery Council For ‘Improper Lobbying’ Courtesy of Rep. Gregorio Sablan

Congressman Blasts Fishery Council For ‘Improper Lobbying’

The Northern Marianas lawmaker demands an investigation of the Hawaii-based Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council