By Edwin Quinabo
Less than three weeks heading into Hawaii’s Aug. 8 Primary Election — the hotly contested race for Mayor of Honolulu City and County is wide open.
According to the Hawaii Filipino Chronicle (HFC) Election poll of registered Filipino voters, 54 percent of respondents say they are still undecided.
Marquee politicians former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann (15.5 percent) and former Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa (10 percent) are leading the top 5 contenders in the HFC poll, followed by City Councilwoman Kym Pine (9 percent), then first-time political candidates former insurance executive Keith Amemiya (7 percent) and former broadcast media General Manager Rick Blangiardi (4.5 percent).
The HFC Poll results among registered Filipino voters differed from the results of the only mainstream poll out (to date) on the mayoral race which was conducted by Hawaii News Now and Civil Beat. In that poll, Blangiardi placed on top (a reverse flip from the HFC result) and Pine came in second to last. Hannemann was not included because he had not entered the race at the time of that poll.
The HFC poll has Pine in striking distance from the leader and practically tied for second place. It helps that Pine had represented in the State House, and currently in the City Council — districts with higher concentration of Filipino voters – districts that were prominently surveyed in our HFC Poll.
The Poll also showed the former mayor, whose name is almost synonymous to rail (a project supported by a majority of Filipinos when it was voted upon) as a favorite, but by a fairly slim margin.
The high undecided/don’t want to say (54 percent) group suggests that the race for mayor will not be decided on Primary Election day and the top two finishers most likely will move on to the General Election. To win outright in the Primary, a candidate must receive a majority 50 percent + 1. A “close” second-place finish on Primary day is as much a victory as first when the top two go head-to-head and the dynamics could change dramatically months later.
While the U.S. Presidential race will be determined in the General Election, the HFC poll also included that race to gauge Filipino voters’ preference in the early season of that contest. The result has Democrat Joe Biden (30.5 percent) over Donald Trump (24.5 percent) with a large undecided/don’t want to say (45 percent) group.
COMPARING FIVE LEADING MAYORAL CANDIDATES
No election is the same as priorities change in time. The COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact is clearly the number one concern for voters in 2020. Money matters have always been a top priority, but to most voters this year there is an added sense of urgency to find solutions to record-breaking unemployment, a collapsed tourism market (Hawaii’s top industry that makes up between 15- 25 percent of the state’s economy), and economic revitalization.
In a non-recession, fairly stable year, inexperience can be overlooked where “potential,” “change,” and “innovation” look promising. 2020 does not look like one of those forgiving years. The pressing demands for quick economic recovery have given added importance to two areas — Executive Experience and Leadership in Managing Big Budgets. The candidate who rates highest on these two would be best for Honolulu at this time, and most likely will win-over a majority of voters.
RATING OF TOP 3:
HANNEMANN: Hands down the former Mayor of Honolulu is the most experienced and only true former government executive among this field of contenders. Hannemann said himself he felt a calling to run “because the city needs strong executive leadership to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and rebuild the economy.”
Besides his time as mayor, Hannemann has fine-tuned his executive skills as president and CEO of the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association. Having that executive leadership in both government and the private sector as Hannemann has could bring a high level of confidence for all stakeholders in the city government that business will get done. The added bonus of executive experience in tourism specifically could also save valuable time and expedite recovery because Hannemann already knows what is needed to resurrect tourism.
With maturity, and after two humbling election losses (against Neil Abercrombie for Governor and Tulsi Gabbard for Congress), Hannemann could actually be an even more effective mayor a second time – keeping his assertive leadership style but losing the high-handed quirk he was notorious for.
HANABUSA: Hanabusa is another would-be mayor who can lead starting from day one. She doesn’t have the same executive experience as a former governor or mayor but has led the highest legislative body in the State as former Senate President, which counts as solid leadership and as someone who has earned the confidence of her peers.
Rebuilding the city’s economy will take close partnering with the state. This is where Colleen has a one-up even over Hannemann, with her having tight relationships with state legislators and knowing what needs to get done in order for legislation to get passed there, legislation that could benefit the City. There are also many state-city issues that overlap like homelessness and affordable housing where Hanabusa already has done the work on the stateside and should be more than prepared to push policy in those areas for the City. As a former congresswoman, Hanabusa has yet another advantage of having the know-how, more than anyone else in this group of contenders, to qualify for and get federal dollars for the City.
BLANGIARDI: In today’s business world, the title executive gets thrown around loosely and do not really match up with a worker’s responsibility. To save on cost, companies often hand out titles in place of a pay raise. It used to be that there was only one vice president. Common today, there is a vice president for as many departments a company has.
In the case of Blangiardi, he is truly an executive as used in the old days, meaning that he’s called the shots as former General Manager of Hawaii News Now, KGMB and KHNL — in what basically amounted to him having had broad influence in the state’s biggest broadcast media market for as many years he was GM.
What most people don’t know is that Blangiardi is also the former president of Telemundo Holdings, Inc. For those on the mainland, everyone knows what a big deal this is. Telemundo is the nation’s second-largest Hispanic television network and a billion-dollar company. Blangiardi is said to have been highly instrumental in leading the sale of Telemundo in 2001 to NBC for $2.7 billion, which is now a division of NBC’s umbrella of broadcasting companies.
The added bonus of Blangiardi being the top bigwig in an industry like the media gives him years of political awareness on the issues far more than an average CEO.
But Blangiardi is still a political outsider, for good or bad, and must learn the intricacies of government processes.
PINE/AMEMIYA: In the area of executive leadership Pine and Amemiya’s resumes don’t hold up against the three others. While Pine was House Minority Floor Leader that position was limited in influence to Republicans that have little influence in the State House. At the City Council she’s had committee chair experience but have not earned the confidence among her colleagues to Chair the entire City Council during her tenure, which was almost a tacit requirement for former City Council members running for mayor to be considered a true contender like former Honolulu City Council Chair Arnold Morgado was when he ran. Amemiya’s track record as a business executive in the insurance industry is impressive but not comparable to the leadership responsibilities of a CEO, President, or GM as Blangiardi had notched under his belt.
Leadership in Managing Big Budgets
RATING OF TOP 3:
Leadership in managing big budgets will be a critical area for the next mayor of Honolulu. Like other cities and counties throughout the United States, Honolulu will need to deal with possible budgetary shortfalls.
The next mayor must not only be able to identify areas to streamline or even cut services temporarily, but have the strong leadership to actually follow through on making these cuts. Projects might need to be scaled back, suspended or scrapped. That means disappointing contractors, unions, and even supporters-donors in some cases.
City and counties do not have the debt power as the Federal government and have no choice but to balance the budget. At a time when many Honolulu residents are financially strapped and out of work, raising property taxes (main revenue for the City) is not an option.
Hannemann again comes out on top in leadership in managing big budgets. In a potential repeat of history, remember that Mufi was the mayor during the last national recession. The subprime mortgage fiasco of 2008-09 that mushroomed into a full-scale recession had many companies large and small going out of business. By 2010, when Mufi left office to run for governor, the nation had already begun to climb out of the recession.
Also during the time of the last recession, handling the affairs on the state side, ironically, was Colleen Hanabusa. When that recession started she was the majority leader. In 2009, right at the turning point of the recession, she was chosen by colleagues to be Senate President.
Both Hannemann and Hanabusa are arguably best skilled to be the City’s top money manager during this current recession because they’ve already proven their abilities as leaders in government at the highest level during the last major recession.
Blangiardi, again places high up in this category because of his impressive business experience as a top executive of multiple major companies. But because his business acumen hasn’t been proven in government budgeting, he comes in third.
Amemiya also in 2009 (the last recession) had to deal with severe budget cuts that threatened many high school athletic programs when he spearheaded the successful Save Our Sports campaign. His work as Executive Director of the Hawai’i High School Athletics Association came with executive budgetary responsibilities as well. But the scale of money management there is nowhere close to what the top three have done.
Pine has ample experience with government budgets but as a role player at the State House, and at best committee chairperson at the City Council. It would have been far more impressive if, again, she had chaired the City Council.
On Change (lesser importance this election year)
RATING OF TOP 3:
PINE ++ (safe change as a career politician, but outside the highest rungs of political power)
AMEMIYA + (moderate change, but his backing by many unions, could indicate not much change at all)
BLANGIARDI + (as the most outsider candidate, the quality of change is not very predictable
In the HFC poll when respondents were asked if they supported change in government or preferred not too many changes, the response among registered Filipino voters were split practically evenly at 51 -49 percent.
While a desire for change in previous elections normally would rate higher, a main goal this time is electing a leader who can bring about stability and someone who can best revitalize the economy in the shortest amount of time.
In this particular election cycle, the lower importance for “change” leaves Pine, Amemiya, and Blangiardi at a disadvantage.
RANKING THE ISSUES
The HFC Poll found that registered Filipino voters prioritize Economy/jobs (24.4 percent) and COVID-19/public health (22.1 percent) as the top two issues. Related to the economy, third in priority was the high cost of living in Honolulu (19 percent), followed by high cost of healthcare, education, immigration, race relations/policing reform, and traffic congestion (rounding out the remaining percentages). Some of these issues are federal, state, or county issues, some overlap in jurisdiction. The Poll, at the least, can be a signpost for candidates where to work on after taking office, if they value the support of Hawaii’s Filipino community.
MAYORAL CANDIDATES ON THE BIG 3 CITY ISSUES – REBUILDING ECONOMY, RAIL, AND AFFORDABLE HOUSING
The top 5 mayoral candidates have similar plans on the big 3 issues of rebuilding the economy, rail, and affordable housing. Only a candidate’s summary, top priority, or an innovative plan have been selected to share for these three areas. Candidates have been invited to give a more in-depth explanation of their full agenda on these issues in our next HFC issue.
1. Rebuilding Economy:
AMEMIYA — says first and foremost he wants to make sure that all residents and businesses that qualify for relief via the federal CARES Act and state and county programs have equitable access to funding to support basic needs.
BLANGIARDI – says rebuilding Honolulu’s economy is his single highest priority as mayor. He supports developing jobs in construction, agriculture and energy to complement a strong tourism industry. In rebuilding the economy, he also believes it is essential to incorporate COVID-19 testing, tracking, and eventually vaccine deployment.
HANABUSA – believes strategic use of federal funds would be tremendously helpful in stabilizing the economy. As a former congresswoman and attorney, she wants to find creative ways to access these funds for the City. She also sees potential in “green jobs,” specifically in the renewable energy sector as another area to expand and build the state’s economy.
HANNEMANN – says he wants to build on the core competence of tourism by developing synergistic industries such as: sports, film and television production, regional cuisine and agriculture, culture and the arts, education, health and fitness, science, and other businesses that attract visitors and investment.
PINE – believes key to Hawaii’s future success is economic diversification and investment in sustainable, clean energy technology and agricultural systems that can provide food, fuel and jobs. On her website she says tourism will always be a part of Hawaii’s culture, but what’s needed is for the community to be independent and be able to stand on its own.
AMEMIYA – believes it is important that the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) ensure completion of the Ala Moana Center phase of rail; otherwise, the City may find itself having to repay hundreds of millions of dollars back to the federal government. As mayor, Keith says he will aggressively call for increased transparency and accountability to avoid further waste and to uphold public trust.
BLANGIARDI – says he would not raise property tax for the sake of the rail project. He would like a total reality check on the actual costs to complete the full route and says HART must be fully accountable and stop wasting money.
HANABUSA – is a former chair of the board of directors of HART. She doesn’t list any specific plans for the future of rail, but says during her time as chair, there was transparency. She also talks about the need for restoring public trust in government or things cannot get done. The rail project has been a source of increased distrust of government for many Hawaii residents. So restoring public trust in rail is understood to be one of her goals.
HANNEMANN – wants to complete the rail system to Ala Moana. He wants to secure appropriated federal transit funding and seek other sources of money to complete rail. He says one possible area is the federal pandemic economic stimulus support for infrastructure. He also wants to use rail to catalyze transit-oriented development. In other words, spur construction of affordable housing, commercial and industrial enterprises, and business growth along transit route.
PINE – offers an idea that private-public contracts should be structured so that the private corporation can pay itself with future profit. This is assumed to be a way to keep costs down. She says rail receives funding from the state, city and the federal government and this should be enough [to complete the project].
3. Affordable Housing
AMEMIYA – has a Housing for All Plan which seeks to prioritize development for Oahu residents, stop illegal vacation rentals, build homes for communities that need them most, and stimulate the private sector to build homes in the urban core.
BLANGIARDI – says the City needs responsible development, and that our old approach to creating affordable housing is not working. He plans to streamline the planning and permitting process to save time and money for builders, and this would also get construction underway faster.
HANABUSA – wants to identify and eliminate obstacles to affordable housing projects; identify and develop or make available for development, City lands appropriated for housing projects, including lands in TOD zones, economic and employment centers, and lands appropriated for congregate housing near resource service agencies and service providers. Using her congressional background, she also wants to work with HUD to increase federal assistance (including tax credits) for affordable housing/rentals, particularly for low and very low-income families.
HANNEMANN – wants to stimulate the construction and availability of affordable housing by enforcing the City’s transient vacation rental ordinance; seek incentives for housing development, such as reducing the parking requirements for buildings along the rail route; and expand the City’s Down Payment Loan Program for first-time homebuyers.
PINE – says as chair of the Zoning and Housing Committee at the Honolulu City Council, she found that outdated building codes and permit delays prevented affordable units from being built economically and swiftly. She says one solution she helped to enact is sweeping legislation that changed building and zoning codes.
HONOLULU CITY COUNCIL DISTRICT 9 (Waikele, Village Park, Royal Kunia, Mililani Town, West Loch, Iroquois Point, and portions of Ewa Villages and Ewa Beach)
Included in the HFC Election Poll are two Honolulu City Council district races because of their high interest in the Filipino community.
District 9 is City Council Chair Ron Menor’s seat which will be termed-out in 2020. The three contenders are former State Sen. Will Espero, comedian and businessman Augusto Tulba (Augie T) and Hawaii Army National Guard Maj. Earl Tsuneyoshi.
The HFC poll results among Filipino registered voters in District 9 are: Espero at 56 percent, Tulba at 7 percent, Tsuneyoshi at 2 percent, and an undecided/don’t want to say at 35 percent.
Espero served 19 years in the Hawaii Legislature, 16 years in the Senate and three years in the House. He’s had some city leadership under Mayor Frank Fasi who placed him in charge of Oahu’s Neighborhood Boards for eight years.
Espero is clearly the most qualified in this race; and is the overwhelming favorite among unions. Just a few of the endorsements he’s received include: Sierra Club of Hawaii, Hawaii Firefighters Association, Hawaii State Teachers Association, Hawaii Government Employees Association, International Longshoremen & Warehouse Union Local 142, Carpenters Local 745, Operating Engineers Local 3.
Maj. Tsuneyoshi is an Army combat veteran who has been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. He graduated from West Point and is currently overseeing and coordinating the daily operations of the Hawaii National Guard Joint Task Force across the state.
Augie T is a legendary entertainer in Hawaii, a radio personality, and a businessman largely promoting his self-brand as a comic. He says since his campaign started in 2019, he’s talked with thousands of residents in District 9 and found public safety as the number one issue, specifically violent crimes against seniors and “crimes of opportunity.” One of his goals is to work on increasing police beats in each of the three District 9 HPD Districts.
HONOLULU CITY COUNCIL DISTRICT 7 (Kalihi, lwilei, Kalihi Kai, Mapunapuna, Salt Lake, Aliamanu, Hickam, Foster Village, Ford Island, and Sand Island)
Four candidates are vying to replace City Councilman Joey Manahan whose seat is termed-out in 2020. The overwhelming favorite among registered Filipino voters in District 7 is Radiant Cordero at 34.48 percent, followed by Ryan Mandado and Jacob Aki tied at 3.45 percent. 58.62 percent of respondents are undecided/don’t want to say.
Cordero is Councilman Manahan’s chief of staff which could offer some continuity should she get elected. Manahan has served as Chair of the Council’s powerful Budget committee which, Cordero, as his Chief of Staff, would have picked up invaluable knowledge in big-budget management. Radiant went to Mid-Pacific Institute, attended the University of Hawaii at Manoa where she received a Master’s degree in Public Administration. Besides her work at the Honolulu City Council, she was a legislative aide at the State House.
The other two who received votes: 1) Aki is currently Chief of Staff to Sen. J. Kalani English, went to Kamehameha Schools, graduated from the University of Hawaii at Manoa with a Bachelor’s degree in Hawaiian Studies and later received an M.A. in Political Management from George Washington University. 2) Mandado is Chief Academic Officer of DreamHouse Ewa Beach Public Charter School and former special education teacher. He graduated from the University of Hawaii at Manoa with a Bachelor’s degree majoring in Mandarin Chinese and American Studies. He went on to receive an MS in Education from Johns Hopkins University. He is currently a doctoral student in Education at UH-Manoa.
While both have strong academic backgrounds, neither have experience working at the Council and starting a political career at this level (representing large, multiple districts) might be too ambitious.
PROFILE OF FILIPINO VOTERS 2020
The most significant change among this year’s Filipino electorate is a spike in self-described Republicans at 17 percent. In previous election years, the second-highest political identification among Filipinos was Independent (this year 16 percent). Democrat Party self-identification comes out on top this year (28 percent) as in previous years. 39 percent of respondents did not want to say what their party affiliation is.
Of all the results of the HFC poll, this one perhaps raises eyebrows of doubt. If in fact a genuine shift has occurred in the Filipino electorate, there should be other evidence to support it such as a rise in FilAm Republican candidates, or Fil-Am Democrat incumbents suddenly switching parties. In the last midterm, there also should have been evidence of increased support for Republicans. None of these occurred.
As in previous HFC polls, immigrants make up the largest group of Filipino voters in Hawaii at 73 percent, compared to 27 percent, Hawaii born. The pattern in age follows previous HFC polls with the largest group 56 and older (56 percent), followed by 36 to 55 (27 percent) and 18 to 35 (17 percent).
Based on mainstream polls, millennials tend to be liberals, progressives and want change in government. The fact that only 17 percent responded to the 2020 HFC poll, and that millennials make up the largest voting-block in the nation — should millennials actually turn out to vote in Hawaii’s primary there could be unexpected results. On favoring change for the mayoral race, as an example, Pine, Amemiya and Blangiardi could do better than expected.
On the only part-Filipino candidate for mayor
Pine, the newer City Council Pine (to be distinguished from State House Pine) is becoming increasingly known as an advocate for working families and fighter for affordable housing. Her eight years at the City Council (larger, multi-neighborhood districting) has improved her visibility beyond the thinly sliced districting of a typical House member. Her time at the City Council (nonpartisan seat) also distanced her from her Republican past in the House. But Pine to many is still known as a Republican even though she says to have resigned from the Republican Party in 2018. Her support of the 2nd amendment on her website is out of place (not a high interest City issue) but is clearly bait directed at her past Republican base. Mixed messaging, unclear political allegiance is perhaps why no major unions (traditionally Democrat supporters) have endorsed her for this race, even though this is technically a non-partisan race.
But there has been an upside to her stock as a politician starting from her time at the Honolulu City Council, where she actually has been empowered to affect significant change as a committee chair, compared to just being a member on a committee in the House where Democrats called the shots.
As the only part-Filipino in the mayoral race, it can be argued that Pine should be doing better among registered Filipino voters. Or it could be that the Filipino electorate has matured to a level where ethnicity is entirely irrelevant. Stepping back to view the big picture, win or lose in 2020. Pine has already accomplished two things: getting her name out to many Oahu residents outside her district who’ve never heard of her; and proving that she can raise big money for big races. She has been among the top fundraisers in this race leading into the Primary.
Empower Yourself, Vote
Remember to vote in the Primary Election. Primary Election ballots will be delivered on July 21. Completed ballots must be received by August 8, Primary Election day. It’s encouraged that completed ballots be mailed at least four days prior to August 8.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The 2020 HFC Election Poll was taken from July 3 through July 12. Respondents were contacted all randomly by phone landlines, cell phones, in-person interviews at public locations, and the Internet. A larger percentage of calls were made to districts with a higher concentration of Filipinos like Waipahu, Kalihi, and Ewa. All 200 respondents are registered Filipino voters. The margin of error is 7 percent.)