Get 2 Know: Hawaii County mayoral candidates Wally Lau, Harry Kim


Hawaii’s primary election takes place this Saturday, Aug. 13. KHON2 will have full coverage on-air and online starting at 6 p.m.

Of the leading candidates running for Hawaii County mayor, one held the seat for eight years.

Another has never been elected into office, but worked for the county as managing director.

Their differences are glaring.

First-time politician Wally Lau is running his campaign headquarters like an old pro with volunteers at the phone banks and professionally made signs at the ready for sign waving.

Meanwhile, two-time mayor and former civil defense administrator Harry Kim has his headquarters at his Hilo home. No volunteers, a box of bumper stickers, and one sign that Kim made himself.

But their priorities are strikingly similar. One is how to stop the homeless problem from getting any worse?

“Maybe we’re not as severe as Oahu, but we don’t want to get to that level, so I want to do a little bit more prevention and early intervention and so I’ll be focusing on that,” Lau said.

“This is a crisis. This isn’t about the homeless that you see on the street. This is about the crisis of the lifestyle we are developing for people, and we’re getting to the point where there is going to be a majority that’s getting a hard time day-to-day,” Kim said.

Kim says he felt the need to run again because he didn’t like how government was being run, and that is part of what’s causing the homeless problem.

“We’ve raised our property tax three times in the past five years,” he said. “The first time, I said oh, I don’t know the inner budget thing. Second time, wait a minute, two times? Now the third time, you go hold the phone here.”

Lau dismisses his lack of experience in politics because he’s built a career in public service. He’s a former teacher and founder of a non-profit organization. He also served as deputy managing director and managing director for outgoing mayor Billy Kenoi.

“So I think I have seven years of experience, but I think a lot of it is just a whole bunch of common sense, and how to have people working together in the sense of respecting each other for a common cause,” Lau said.

With Mayor Kenoi now dealing with legal and ethical issues over alleged misuse of the county issued purchase card or pCard, we had to ask: “What do you say to the critics saying why didn’t you do something about it or that you were a part of that?”

“You know I’ve had that question too, and for me, it’s always been the audit came in and they took a look at my pCard, and when they took a look at my receipts, I was absolutely okay with that,” Lau said. “I had no oversight of the mayor’s pCard.”

Lau says his campaign is about moving forward, improving infrastructure like roads and parks, and streamlining the permitting system to help the economy grow.

Kim emphasizes putting the trust back in the administration. At 76 though and with a history of heart problems, there are concerns about his health.

“Can a man who is 76 have the passion to do this for at least four more years and the energy?” KHON2 asked.

“First of all, the answer is without any doubt yes. Otherwise you wouldn’t do it,” Kim said. “I have more of a passion to do this now than any other time.”

Both candidates say the decision to run for this office did not come easy, but felt this was their opportunity to make Hawaii County better.

“I truly feel that I can see the trees better because I know more. I have better understanding of myself,” Kim said.

“Working with the people to make their community the kind of community that they would like it to be, the kind of quality of life that they want it to be for their community,” Lau said.

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