City Council vacancies inspire hot races, but the transition could bring business to a halt

The Honolulu City Council said goodbye to two members today - and there is no shortage of candidates fighting to replace them.
Published: Nov. 2, 2022 at 5:20 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -The Honolulu City Council said an early aloha to two members Wednesday ― and there is no shortage of candidates fighting to replace them and fill a third open seat.

At the council meeting Chair Tommy Waters proclaimed it “a happy day and a sad day,” as he led an informal victory celebration for councilmembers Brandon Elefante and Carol Fukunaga, who are up for state Senate seats.

“I know you folks are going to win. that’s why we are here celebrating today,” Waters said.

It was an unusual moment in Hawaii government, with accolades for the departing council members who are both running as Democrats against Republicans.

Fukunaga faces Republican Benjamin Sakai in Senate District 11, Manoa and upper Makiki.

Elefante’s opponent in Halawa to Pearl City, District 16, is Republican Patricia Beekman.

Despite the contested races, longtime Republicans Andria Tupola and Heidi Tsuneyoshi praised their departing colleagues and wished them luck in the state Senate.

While in the council, all members are considered nonpartisan so party labels are often ignored.

The other unusual situation is being caused by the council and the state Legislature’s different calendars.

Assuming Fukunaga and Elefante are elected Tuesday night, they will immediately leave Honolulu Hale and walk across the street to the State Capitol to start work.

That leaves two open seats on the council.

Council Member Andria Tupola said the absences could bring the nine-member council’s work to a halt.

“We have to determine whether or not any of the committees could operate,” Tupola said. “We have to have quorum for each of the committees ― that’s usually three to four people.”

Tupola some measures with deadlines could fail, and pointed out that a third vacancy will be created when Heidi Tsuneyoshi leaves office in late December.

“Definitely in December we were already not going to convene committees ... so there may not be committee hearings until January of next year,” Tupola said. She added that could be a good thing ― to not make big decisions when there’s no one to represent big sections of the island.

There are three campaigns to fill the vacancies, as well as a challenge to Waters.

Hawaii News Now political analyst Colin Moore, director of the UH Public Policy Center, said Waters is not getting a serious challenge from Kaleo Nakoa, a relative unknown with little campaign money.

Moore said one of the tightest races ― in the North Shore district Tsuneyoshi gave up in an unsuccessful run for governor ― pits progressive attorney Matt Weyer against champion waterman Makuakai Rothman.

“It’s going to be a close race but that’s a district that tends conservative anyway,” Moore said.

“So celebrity combined with a somewhat more conservative set of policies, it wouldn’t surprise me if Makua Rothman wins this one.”

The race in the Mililani-Pearl City district pits state House Minority Leader Val Okimoto against former Councilman and legislator Ron Menor.

“He has all this money that he raised when he was a member of the Council,” Moore said. “But from everything I’ve heard, Okimoto is doing very well in this race. I mean, she was a very popular member of the House.”

In central Honolulu, Moore gives the upper hand to Tyler Dos Santos-Tam, a construction union lobbyist and former Democratic Party chair over Traci Toguchi, Fukunaga’s legislative aid and former Miss Hawaii.