Big Island mayoral candidates focus on issues instead of each other

HILO, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - The political battle for the Big Island's top job pits the current mayor against a former one. The top two finishers in the primary election share a close connection, but their campaigns are quite different.

With personal ties that date back decades, the two opponents have focused on the issues instead of each other. Harry Kim, 73, was Billy Kenoi's childhood football coach. Kenoi, 43, later served as executive assistant to Kim when he was mayor.

"If it gets a little heated because Harry sees things one way and I see things another way, than that's the situation, but I'll always be respectful to him," said Kenoi.

"This election is not about Mayor Kenoi. This isn't about Harry Kim. This is (about) our differences on what the role of government is," said Kim.

Kenoi beat Kim by 3,590 ballots in the August primary election, but Hawaii County council chair Dominic Yagong, who finished third with 8,352 votes, has now endorsed Kim.

"We don't think those votes are immediately transferable. I think people here on Hawaii Island, they make up their own minds," Kenoi said.

Kim's new strategy includes a Facebook page and website, but he is still running a low-key campaign out of his home, with a $10 donation limit and signs made by supporters.

"When I said I was going to call out the cavalry, it was a simple realization that, 'Come on Harry, look what you're up against,'" said Kim.

Kim said he is not worried about his past health scares, including three heart attacks.

"I knew I had the health to do it. Promises were made that I'll eat at least twice a day. I'll sleep five, six hours a night," said Kim.

Kenoi is interacting with voters through social media, sign-waving and community outreach. He has a campaign headquarters in both Hilo and Kona. Kenoi said he has helped connect the east and west sides of the island by bringing the government to different communities.

"We were able to reduce the size and cost of government, reduce the impact on county residents and taxpayers in terms of taxes collected, while still being able to build important infrastructure," Kenoi said.

Kim said he came out of retirement due to "home rule" issues about preserving public input opportunities and the role of county government. Specific concerns include the lack of support for the community development plan program and the push for geothermal development. Both candidates support geothermal projects, but Kim is upset about two new state laws that ease requirements for exploration.

"What I am in opposition of is simply how it is done. It must be done with protection of people as priority of the land, of the water and the air," Kim said.

"We have to continue to explore and ensure that our island maximizes its natural energy assets, but of course nobody, especially us, wants any adverse impact on the environment, culture, people," said Kenoi.

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