Candidate profile: Rod Tam

Rod Tam
Rod Tam
Robert Tam
Robert Tam

By Brooks Baehr - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Rod Tam has been a state representative, state senator, or city councilman for 28 years. Now he wants to be mayor of Honolulu and he is counting on his longtime constituents in Nuuanu and Chinatown to help him get elected..

"Hey Warren," Tam said to his brother-in-law while walking through Chinatown meeting people and shaking hands. Election after election Tam has come back to Chinatown to woo voters.

"Hi, hi," Tam said to a woman behind the counter in a Chinatown bakery.

"I grew up around here. From a little boy my grandparents used to bring me to Chinatown," Tam told Hawaii News Now.

"This is the United Chinese Society," he said standing outside a building on King Street. "I was president back in 1997."

Kanya Yi accompanied Tam on his walk. Yi is a longtime campaign volunteer for Tam.

"He's a people's person. I know his father. Very humble family. His parents and then now I come to know his children," Yi said.

Tam is a fifth generation Chinese American.

"People call him up asking for help. He's right there helping them," Tam's father Robert told Hawaii News Now.

Tam makes frequent visits to see his parents at the Nuuanu home where he grew up.

"My father is a real role model, and he taught me in terms of be involved," Tam said.

Involved? Yes. Controversial? You bet.

During his time in public office Tam has been criticized for several things including using a derogatory racial slur associated with Mexican immigrants, introducing a bill that would have allowed state workers to take naps on the job, suggesting people with body odor not be allowed on city buses, and proposing Koko Crater be used as a landfill.

"I'm action oriented. I take hold of the issues and the problems and I lay it on the table and work out solutions for it. I'm not afraid of doing it," Tam said when asked about his controversial ideas.

Nor, Tam said, is he afraid of an ongoing criminal investigation into his use of city money. The city ethics commission found Tam spent at least $10,000 buying meals for himself, family, and friends.

"Well, people have experiences, and when you think back in terms of crazy experiences, dumb experiences, but people have those kind of experiences and we settled it. (It's) Basically a matter of interpretation. People may differ in terms of what they think about it, but it's settled, so I'm moving forward," he commented.

Tam has agreed to repay the city $13,700.

If elected mayor, Tam said he will put the brakes on rail until the economy recovers or he can find private sector money to help finance the project.

And he said he will implement a concrete financial plan for the city.

"We have to look in terms of how we are going to stabilize our economy and stimulate it."

Tam took our news crew to Jack Lane near his parents' home in Nuuanu.

"Back in the 1970's the road was in bad shape," Tam said. In 1972 Tam was a senior at Roosevelt High School learning to drive. He said noticed all the pot holes on Jack Lane and began a campaign to get the city to resurface the road. After three years of lobbying Tam said the city did pave Jack Lane.

He told Hawaii News Now it was his success in effecting change at a young age that guided him toward a career in public office.

Now, as the city prepares to pave Jack Lane again, Tam's career is at a crossroads. He could be elected mayor, or his political career could have reached the end of the road. If it has, Tam said he will "Take on challenges. That's the key in all aspects of life."

On September 14 Hawaii News Now will broadcast a live 90 minute mayoral debate from the Blaisdell Center.

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