Debate recap: 5 contenders share why they should be the next Honolulu Mayor

Election 2020

HONOLULU (KHON)– Three political veterans and two newcomers with business backgrounds took to the Hawaii Theatre stage on Thursday for a 90-minute debate.

The candidates shared their thoughts on how best to lead Oahu, the state’s most densely populated island at just under 1 million residents. 

All agreed the COVID-19 pandemic has strained Oahu’s economy… and people. 

“I’m talking to people with 0 dollars in their bank account that don’t know where to get food. This is unacceptable to me,” said Kym Pine, who is currently serving her second term on the Honolulu City Council representing District 1. 

“Our people are confused, worried, concerned. They’re receiving mixed messages from our government,” said Keith Amemiya, a businessman, lawyer and non-profit leader. 

“We cannot continue to have the economic difficulties that we are having. It’s going to be a long road back to recovery,” said Mufi Hanneman, who previously served as Honolulu Mayor for two terms from 2005-2010. He resigned as mayor to run as Governor in 2010, but lost the Democratic primary to Neil Abercrombie. Hanneman currently serves as CEO and President of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association. 

“I think it’s fair to say we can’t keep our borders closed (to visitors). We can’t keep this up forever,” said Rick Blangiardi, a former television executive who has held leadership positions at television stations in cities across the country. Locally, Blangiardi has lead stations KHON and Hawaii News Now. 

“We’ve got to understand this pandemic, do things right, and not confuse the people,” said Colleen Hanabusa, a labor lawyer who previously served in the Hawaii Senate and was elected the U.S. Representative from Hawaii’s 1st congressional district from 2011-2015 and again from 2016-2019. She ran for Governor in 2018, but lost to incumbent Democratic Governor David Ige in the primary election. 

When asked a question by a viewer regarding their stance on police reform, all replied they were not in favor of defunding the police department.

But similarities appeared to end there. During an exchange where candidates asked each other questions, responses were often heated. 

“My whole career is about fighting corruption in government,” said Pine. 

She directed her question to Blangiardi: “You’re the only person here investigated for bank fraud by the federal government. You’re going to be overseeing, as mayor, a multi-billion dollar budget. How are you going to fight off people who want to give you things as mayor?” 

“That incident happened 37 years ago. I took full responsibility for it. The people involved all went to jail, and I rebuilt my life. And that’s all there is to it,” Blangiardi answered. 

Blangiardi directed his question to Hanabusa. 

“Collen, you’ve said repeatedly that people who have not worked in government will need training wheels. Doesn’t that phrase apply to you, before others?” 

“Rick, I guess it’s a question of what you’ve learned and how you can use what you’ve learned. Now remember, I was the Senate President for 4 years. With 25 different egos in that situation, it takes leadership and management skills that someone, for example, who’s a chief executive who’s used to dictating down, would not understand. That is what makes me uniquely qualified,” Hanabusa answered. 

Hanneman asked Amemiya: “You talked about the fact that the Caldwell administration has done a great job financially. One of the reasons they are maintaining high bond ratings is because of what my administration accomplished. You’re going to deal with a budget that’s physically challenged. What are the four measures to ensure the city can maintain a high bond rating and at the same time put us in a path, as I did as mayor, to not raise property taxes?” 

“There’s more than four measures in order to maintain a high bond rating, Mufi. You need to run a fiscally responsible city government. You need to be efficient. You have to make sure you’re not overly leveraged. As mayor, I’ll continue to be fiscally responsible as I have in all my executive level jobs that I’ve had in the public and private sectors,” responded Amemiya. 

Amemiya asked Hanneman: “Mufi, do you think leaving mid-term to run for another office hurt the rail project?” 

“I thought I could take those executive skills to the next level. Well, the people obviously said no. I get it. I understand it,” Hanneman said in response. 

The debate, moderated by Always Investigating’s Gina Mangieri, ended with a closing plea by the candidates. Each were given 60 seconds to prove why they are best fit to assume the role of Honolulu Mayor.

The order in which their speeches were given were chosen by a drawing. 

Colleen Hanabusa
“I’d like to thank KHON, Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, and AARP for sponsoring this debate. I’d like to use this minute to tell you about my priorities as your Mayor. My first priority is with the working families and the kupuna. My administration would put your safety, your jobs and welfare as its top priority. Second, I believe in transparency and accountability. For that reason, you will always have me to be responsible, the buck will stop with me. Third, I believe we must concentrate on the essential core services of the city. That’s what you expect of us. It is not nice to have projects. Fourth, I will tell you that I will look for every state and federal dollar and use it to infuse the economy so we can rebuild Honolulu together. Finally, this is not the time for on the job training. This is a time where you need experience. I bring with me experience of those who have served in all levels of government. Mahalo, I kindly ask for your vote.” 

Mufi Hanneman 
“We are in a critical situation. You can describe our predicament — if we were a patient, in critical condition. If you had a choice of having a life threatening operation, and it was a choice of someone who’s never had an operation before, or an experienced physician. Who would you choose? That is the case that is before us today. I bring you hope, I bring you optimism. I come with a 5 point plan, the only one who did it the day he entered. Health and safety first, bringing businesses back, making Honolulu a world-class city. Someone who’s a fiscal conservative, that’s going to mind the money. Last, but not least, someone who’s going to look to the future, and make sure we’re green and sustainable, like I did when I brought partners together to purchase Waimea Valley, to be able to pay for Waimea Valley to the person with rights to develop so it can be saved perpetuity. This is the time to vote for Mufi Hanneman, if you put me back at that job again, I will do my best to put you back in yours. I humbly ask for your consideration, for a strong, tested, experienced leader, to go back to city hall.”

Kym Pine 
“Aloha, I’m Kym Pine and I’m running for Mayor. I say that jokingly because I know many of you are just discovering who I am now. For 15 years, I’ve been quietly managing billions of dollars in budgets, making sure they’re balanced, fighting corruption and building as an executive, a second city out in Kapolei. I often wondered: what is my role in this campaign? I’m running against millionaires! And people who make 300,000 dollars at the minimum. And I make 45,000 after taxes. I’m in this campaign to make sure you’re not forgotten. That the working class who have suffered so much by the types of leadership of people in power who run for office just to enrich their friends and their families, I’m here to fight corruption, to make Honolulu affordable, to keep you safe, to keep you healthy, to have an ethical government and a resilient economy, where we no longer depend on the outside world to feed us and to survive. Please vote.”

Keith Amemiya 
I’m running for Mayor because we need change. We need new leadership, we need a fresh perspective, and we need restore trust in government. I’m running for Mayor because I care about or communities and I want to create a better future for all of us. Including our younger generations. This is a pivotal election for all of us. We all need to decide who we want best for our next mayor. We can choose change, or we can choose the status quo. We can choose looking backwards and talking about the past, or we can choose looking forward. And envisioning a better, brighter future for all of us. I’m choosing change and looking forward. I humbly ask you to join me in this journey, to create a bigger, better Oahu for all of us for many, many years to come. Aloha and mahalo. 

Rick Blangiardi 
“Now is the time for hope. Maybe with this election you perceive this is the beginning of hope. We’re going to need to do that. But I don’t believe in false hope. I’m running for mayor because we’ve elected a lot of people in the past and not just the people at these tables, yet we still have the same problems. Said another way, experience without success is meaningless. I’ve been in leadership roles my whole life. I’ve worked hard to earn the things I’ve gotten in life. I understand what it takes to build a team. I have a deep love of Hawaii. A very deep love of Hawaii and all that is has afforded me. Too often, politicians dismiss the qualifications of non-politicians. That is a big mistake in this equation. What I bring to this job, is someone who can bring a team and a heart to do all the right things by the people of this state. So I humbly ask you for your vote.”

The debate touched on a variety of topics, including the county’s economy, the rail project, education, kupuna issues, and a question sent in from a teenager regarding rural communities that received touching responses by the candidates. To view the debate in its entirety, click here

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