HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Oahu voters, apparently fed up with the status quo and facing an uncertain economic outlook, threw their support in Saturday’s primary election behind two first-time political candidates who have promised change and a fresh perspective to old problems.
Candidates Rick Blangiardi and Keith Amemiya clinched the top two spots in the primary to advance to a general election runoff, beating out longtime politicians — including a former mayor.
Blangiardi said he was humbled by the support.
“This is about leadership. This is not about politics,” he told Hawaii News Now on Saturday night. “As we all know, it’s the primary. This turns tomorrow towards a very big challenge. But I’m proud to be here.”
In second place, Amemiya said he was excited to bring “new leadership” to city hall.
“It just shows that people want change,” he said. “They want a fresh perspective and they want to restore trust in government.”
Former Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa, a familiar name in Hawaii politics, took third place in the race followed by City Councilwoman Kym Marcos Pine and former Mayor Mufi Hannemann.
Hannemann said in a statement issued about 9 p.m. Saturday that he entered the race to help guide Honolulu Hale through the COVID-19 pandemic. He said it appears voters were “seeking a fresh face.”
“Whomever is elected mayor will face a very tough task. I stand ready to assist that person in the difficult tasks that await,” Hannemann said.
Meanwhile, Pine said she was proud of the race she ran.
“We knew we were up against a lot of outsiders, even those who talk about being insiders,” she said.
The results in Hawaii’s first mail-in election came on a night when the state was also celebrating a significant boost in turnout. A record number of ballots were cast in the primary.
Going into Saturday’s election, Blangiardi led in the polls, with Hanabusa and Amemiya rounding out the top three. That surprised veteran political pundits, who assumed Oahu voters would gravitate toward a seasoned politician given the economic and public health crisis facing the city.
Instead, HNN political analyst Colin Moore said, they seem to be interested in change.
Blangiardi, former general manager of Hawaii News Now, has never held political office.
Neither has Amemiya. And their campaign platforms are focused on convincing voters that their experience outside government — and in business — is exactly what the city needs.
By comparison, Hanabusa urged voters to choose a known factor ― someone who has served in Hawaii politics for decades. She often said she wouldn’t need “training wheels” on day one.
In the primary election race for Honolulu mayor, a candidate needs to get 50% plus one of the vote to win outright. Otherwise, the top two vote-getters proceed to the general election in November.
While Blangiardi and Amemiya are both promising change — they’re anything but facsimiles of one another.
Interestingly, Amemiya has sought to inject partisan politics into the nonpartisan mayoral race, frequently mentioning in ads and in interviews that he is a Democrat.
Blangiardi calls himself an independent, saying he has voted both Democrat and Republican in previous elections, but said he doesn’t believe in bringing party politics into the race.
Oahu voters are selecting a new mayor in the midst of an unprecedented crisis.
COVID-19 infections are surging on the island and economists have said it could take years to recover from the pandemic’s economic toll. In the meantime, tens of thousands remain unemployed.
The candidates for mayor sought to distinguish themselves in part by how they’d revitalize Oahu.
Several targeted tourism, saying that while it is central to Hawaii’s economy it also needs to be reined in ― a popular message at a time when residents are enjoying the break from visitors.
Four of the candidates were also open to pausing the rail project at Middle Street if the financially-strapped city can’t pencil out the final phase to Ala Moana.
In the months leading up to the election, the mayoral candidates also struggled to make their voices heard ― competing with not only the headlines of the day but limitations on gatherings.
Candidates couldn’t even go door-to-door. Until recently, sign waving was out, too.
And the limitations candidates faced in reaching voters might be even more severe given the skyrocketing number of coronavirus infections on Oahu.
This is the first election in Hawaii that was conducted almost entirely by mail. That means on primary election day, most voters had already made up their minds on who they would support.
The opportunity for last-minute swing votes just wasn’t there.
The race for Honolulu mayor actually started a year ago.
Amemiya was the first to announce his plans to run in August 2019. The attorney, business executive and former head of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association declared he would bring a fresh approach to Honolulu Hale.
“I would take a zero tolerance approach to corruption,” he said, in announcing his candidacy. “My whole life is centered on many principles, including trust, integrity, surrounding yourself with good people.”
Last October, Pine announced her plans to run, saying she has the experience to serve as mayor.
In February of this year, before the pandemic crisis hit Hawaii, Blangiardi announced his candidacy and touted his leadership skills.
”This is about bringing the best people to solve the very issues you are challenging me on asking me about on a going forward basis,” he said. “That’s exactly how this office should function. That’s exactly what we intend to do.”
That same month, after hinting of a mayoral run for months, Hanabusa finally confirmed her ambitions for the office.
Hannemann was the latest entry to the race, throwing his name in the hat in June. “I’m coming back to the Hale. I was mayor of Honolulu twice. I’m coming back for a three-peat,” he said.