After close vote, City Council gets a new chair — and a new direction

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In a vote of 5-to-4 Monday, Ernie Martin reclaimed the reigns of the Honolulu City Council — the culmination of a power struggle for chairmanship of the nine-member body that came to a head last week.

"There's always disagreements in the family," Martin told Hawaii News Now.

Martin unseated Ron Menor for the position; Menor's leadership had recently come under harsh criticism from fellow council member Kymberly Pine, who assumed the position of vice chair during the chairmanship shift.

Pine has lodged public complaints that Menor and his vice chair, Ikaika Anderson, overlooked contributions from the council's female members – and that they even took credit for their work in some cases.

Menor says those claims are unfounded.

"Some of the allegations were raised without any specific credible evidence being provided to support the claims in regards to our Council leadership," he said.

Speaking to reporters after the leadership changes had been voted upon, Martin promised his team wouldn't be a rubber stamp for Mayor Kirk Caldwell's policies.

"I think it's going to be a more responsible City Council," he said. "I think you'll see a tougher line of questioning from the members itself."

He also advised council members to rise above "personal differences and political ambitions."

Hawaii News Now political analyst Colin Moore criticized the council for engaging in petty politics.

"Given all of the major policy problems and challenges the city has to deal with, the fact that they're constantly engaged in leadership struggles, I think, makes them look silly," he said.

Martin said all of the members are well-qualified and knowledgeable –  and able to put their differences behind them.

"It's just a difference of opinion on how to get to the end of the road," he said.

But Menor worries the leadership change may jeopardize Mayor Caldwell's funding plan for rail – a plan that includes $44 million in borrowed money.

"If this issue is not handled properly and appropriately by council leadership, I really have major concerns that the FTA will withhold any additional federal funding, which would effectively kill the project," he said.

MartIn isn't ready to discuss his rail funding ideas, but says he's not out to sabotage the $9 billion project.

"All of us support rail itself. It's just a matter of doing it responsibly," he said. "That's the bottom line."

Martin previously chaired the council from 2011 to 2017, when he was unseated by Menor. His committee assignments are expected to include Trevor Ozawa as head of the powerful budget committee.

Martin's term on the Honolulu City Council runs out at the end of the year. He's already announced plans to run for Congress.

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