HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Tensions in the hotly-contested race for Honolulu mayor were elevated again during a debate on Thursday night after one candidate compared the other to President Trump.
Over the past several weeks, businessman Keith Amemiya has repeatedly tried to use President Trump’s unpopularity in Hawaii as a campaign tool against his opponent in the race, former television executive Rick Blangiardi.
During Thursday’s televised forum on PBS Hawaii, Amemiya was asked what made him different from Blangiardi as a mayoral candidate.
“We can’t afford any top-down leadership, any take-it-or-leave-it leadership,” said Amemiya, who ― in a campaign commercial that began airing this week ― is also using a photograph of President Trump to make the same point.
“This is a real misconception that I actually personally resent, because I find it almost insulting that someone would think I would run something top-down like that, when it’s just the opposite,” said Blangiardi, in response to Amemiya’s comment.
And it wasn’t the first time in recent weeks that the Amemiya campaign appeared to accuse Blangiardi of favoring the ‘strong-arm’ tactics sometimes attributed to President Donald Trump.
During an endorsement announcement earlier this month, Amemiya ― who has campaigned publicly as a Democrat in the non-partisan race for mayor ― called Blangiardi ‘another top-down leader’ with a ‘don’t worry, I’ll figure it out’ attitude.
When asked during a press conference to clarify whether those comments were about Blangiardi, who identifies as an Independent, or President Trump, Amemiya replied: “I was referring to both of them.”
Hawaii News Now political analyst Colin Moore says he’s surprised the usually mild-mannered Amemiya is using negative messaging in his campaign.
“And frankly in the ads, his heart just doesn’t seem in it when he’s does these attacks,” said Moore. “It almost appears like someone has told him he has to become aggressive. He doesn’t come across as genuine and I don’t think it’s working very well for him."
"It’s a very off-message for his campaign,” Moore added.
During the debate, Amemiya also claimed that the former television executive has powerful insiders running his campaign.
“His campaign is run by political insiders, whether it’s Gov. Linda Lingle, our former Republican governor, Ben Cayetano, and former congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa,” said Amemiya. “That’s as political insider as you get.”
“They’re not running this campaign. They’ve been really good to collaborate with. You’re looking at who is running this campaign, I am the driver in this situation,” said Blangiardi. “I work with a great team of people, we collaborate, and that’s how we’re doing it.”
The entire one-hour debate can be viewed on-demand on PBS Hawaii.