Mayor-elect sweats the small and big stuff on basic city services

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — How can a new mayor handle the nuts and bolts of city maintenance, even as marquee projects like rail and a big budget deficit drag finances down? In part two of our interview with Honolulu Mayor-elect Rick Blangiardi, we delve more into health and safety for Hawaii’s largest county. (Read Part One here from Nov. 23 airing).

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Blangiardi has quickly learned the mayor’s job isn’t always glamorous, and that he’s ultimately responsible for making sure a big city functions on the big stuff like public safety, down to every pothole and trash pickup.

We asked how he’ll get it all done with rail and tax shortfalls mounting, and COVID concerns top of the list.

“The pandemic is a two headed monster, right? We are trying to juggle public health and safety with revving up our economy,” Blangiardi said. “So you’ve got both an economic crisis and a health crisis still going on after so many months. What has been really unsettling is the surge on the mainland, and the possible threats that we could get here. We just can’t wait this disease out.”

While we can’t wait it out, the county can watch the science.

KHON2 pointed out: “Kauai is a bit of a canary in the coal mine. They’re seeing that there are some post-arrival positives that sneak through, people who came with good faith that they were negative, locals and visitors alike. What are your thoughts on a post arrival test for Honolulu and making it mandatory?”

“You know, I would be in support of anything that ensures in the psychology about people: safety, because that is the biggest fear,” Blangiardi said. “So anything that will promote that I’m going to be in favor of, at the same time saying if we do that then maybe perhaps we could start evolving here more as a people knowing for awhile this disease is going to be around for a long time.”

Prior to COVID, “safety” to a mayor usually meant public safety, police, fire, EMS, and ocean safety. Also pre-COVID, Honolulu was in the midst of a huge crime spike with robbery and violent crime in particular. The crime trend took a bit of a pause under COVID.

KHON2 asked: “It could always come back. What can you do as mayor to prevent what had been a very quickly exploding crime trend pre- COVID?”

“Well, I’m encouraged by the attitude of our police department, because they’ve gone through a lot, you know, in this past year with Black Lives Matter, of defunding the police, heavy criticism,” Blangiardi said. “But as you said, last fall, we had a lot of violence. This year has subsided somewhat. I want to keep our first responders, as our police, our fire, our ocean safety people, our EMS people all front-of-mind and just hope that as a people that we will not see this violence again. But should it come up then we’ll deal with the perpetrators and bad people as quickly as possible.”

KHON2 said: “A lot of the job of the mayor is you’re the top handyman. You’ve got to keep our streets running, and our trash pickup and our sewers working, along with our water. We’re behind a lot of the other states on everything from wastewater management to storm water management, and what we’re doing with our recycling or not doing on all those upkeep kind of things.”

“There’s a lot there, and it’s more than upkeep,” Blangiardi said. “They’re all pretty complicated. I’ll tell you how many people have said to me, you know, my job really is going to range from the menial to the executive, and somewhere in between if we can get our parks cleaned, and pay attention to some infrastructure and get some things done, that will just be so discernible for easy for people to see. I think it’ll be an important thing.”

In continuing coverage this week, how the new mayor will approach transparency in the wake of federal investigations of county agencies and staff, where climate and the environment stand on his priority list, and what success in year one for this first-time politician would look like.

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