HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Former TV executive Rick Blangiardi won the race for Honolulu mayor Tuesday night in a landslide victory, capping off a general election contest that pitted two political newcomers against one another and included no shortage of mudslinging.
Mayor Caldwell met with Mayor-elect Blangiardi Wednesday evening to discuss the upcoming transition of leadership, and the issues facing the city.
They reportedly discussed the City’s Covid-19 response, the budget, and of course, the Honolulu Rail Project.
With turnout way up this year, Blangiardi secured 60% of the general election vote to Amemiya’s 40%, the largest margin of victory in a general election mayoral race going back to the early 1990s.
In a Zoom availability with reporters about midnight, held shortly after the first results from the election were released, Amemiya conceded the race and congratulated Blangiardi, offering a conciliatory message and urging everyone to get behind the new mayor-elect.
“He ran a very successful and very formidable campaign,” he said. “I’d also like to thank and congratulate all the voters across Hawaii for their record turnout.”
Blangiardi said his “heart is full” after the win.
“This is in an incredible honor," he said. “The real thanks go to the voting public.”
He added, “We as a people living on this island and the challenges we face, we’ve got to be as one people. I promise we will work very, very hard at it to try to solve all the problems."
“To the people who didn’t vote for us, we want to earn your respect. We need to earn your trust. We are people on this island facing unprecedented circumstances and it will take all of us."
On Hawaii News Now’s Sunrise on Wednesday morning, Blangiardi said he would be speaking with Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell to discuss the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the rail project.
“It’s going to be about putting the team in place,” he said. “Today I’m going to be having some conversations with a few people who I think could come in and make a difference.”
As Honolulu’s next mayor, Blangiardi will be greeted with no shortage of crisis: An island economy devastated by the pandemic, a gaping budget gap, and a rail project with an uncertain future.
And then there’s homelessness, aging city infrastructure, a housing shortage and the high cost of living.
With so many problems facing the city and few clear solutions, both candidates had sought to appeal to voters with promises of fresh leadership and new ideas that come from private sector experience.
They’ve both said their lack of political experience is an asset.
“This race has actually been less about policy and more about personality,” said HNN political analyst Colin Moore. “And their plans for COVID-19 recovery, that’s really what voters are thinking about.”
After Blangiardi’s win, Moore said Blangiardi will now need to live up to voters' expectations.
“He’s going to have to deliver on those promises and show he can make the tough decisions,” he said.
As far as local races go this year, it didn’t get bigger than Amemiya versus Blangiardi.
“When you think about how we spend our money, you really need to think carefully about who you want governing and how we spend our money,” said Ngoc Phan, an associate professor at HPU.
Daryl Huff, Hawaii News Now managing editor, said voters were looking for someone who can serve both as a leader during crisis and a manager who can get into the weeds to improve the quality of life.
“There’s two jobs of the mayor: One is to deal with just the day-to-day, blocking and tackling of getting the garbage picked up, filling the potholes, fixing the roads, just basic city services,” he said. “Then the other side of it is this huge crisis issue. COVID is the biggest one, obviously, but rail is another one.”
Heading into the general election, Blangiardi held a comfortable lead in the polls.
A Civil Beat/HNN poll released three weeks before the general election gave the former television executive a double-digit lead over Amemiya. A Star-Advertiser poll also showed Blangiardi well ahead.
Amemiya had pushed back against those results, saying his internal polling showed a closer race.
As Election Day neared, both candidates sparred in the media ― and griped about one another’s tactics. Amemiya made headlines for comparing Blangiardi to President Donald Trump.
In one attack ad, Amemiya played an interview in which Blangiardi says he voted for Trump in 2016. Amemiya hoped the ad would swing Democratic voters in the nonpartisan race.
“He’s talked about coming in and cleaning house,” Amemiya said.
Blangiardi, meanwhile, called Amemiya’s approach “pretty disturbing.”
“The constant mischaracterizations and quite honestly lies are more than disappointing,” he said.
Civil Beat Political Chad Blair said he was surprised by the sparring back and forth.
“I did not think this race would become as negative as it has become,” he said. “Who would have thought to link Rick Blangiardi with Donald Trump? But I think it is effective because Donald Trump is not very popular here. So that has come as a surprise to me – just how negative two political newcomers, two people who never ran for office before.”