Between Honolulu City Council committee meetings, congressional candidate Tulsi Gabbard and some of her city staffers, taking an early lunch break, walked over to the Sun Yat-Sen Park to make a campaign announcement: Tulsi is the working man’s choice for Congress.

The event, where Gabbard unveiled support from six local labor unions, came hours after former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann officially announced his candidacy for the 2nd Congressional District seat.

The assembled union leaders spoke glowingly of Gabbard as a “new face” for Hawaii and said they’d reached their conclusions after conversations with her, but they likely didn’t need to think twice about Hannemann’s candidacy. Of the six, none had endorsed Hannemann’s unsuccessful bid for governor last year, so none had to switch allegiances.

Electrical workers, plumbers and pipefitters and boilermakers all endorsed Neil Abercrombie‘s candidacy last year. Hannemann had fewer total labor endorsements, but the combined membership of his backers was considerable. It’s hard to overstate the importance of union support in Hawaii.

“Having their vote of confidence in me to be their representative, to be their voice in Washington, to help create jobs, to secure the future for our keiki here in Hawaii is something I’m honored to receive and I’m very humbled by,” she said, with the Plumbers and Fitters 675 headquarters across Bethel Street behind her. “I look forward to working with them and working hard for the people of Hawaii as they continue to work hard here for their families.”

Gabbard’s press release described the unions endorsing her as “major,” but by the numbers they’re not the largest in the state. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1186 has 3,112 members, making it the state’s 13th largest union, according to the 2011 Book of Lists published by Pacific Business News.

The IBEW Local 1260 has another 3,051 members, making it 14th largest, and Plumbers and Fitters 675, the 18th largest union, adds another 1,923 members. The International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers, Local 132; Boilermakers Union Local 627; and Elevator Constructors Union, Local 126 are not among the top 25 unions in the state.

Gabbard, much like when she first announced her candidacy, refused to deviate from broad generalizations. Asked about her platform, she mentioned no specifics. And asked about differences between her and Hannemann, she demurred.

Juggling Responsibilities

Hannemann has already run a statewide campaign, and while he lost badly to Abercrombie last year, he did spend millions building name recognition on the neighbor islands — something Gabbard has yet to do. But Gabbard said she’ll find time to campaign while maintaining her presence at Honolulu Hale.

“It’s going to be a busy year,” she told Civil Beat. “I’ve got great teams supporting me both on the council as well as on the campaign, and I’m a hard worker.”

Tuesday’s announcement came about an hour after the Committee on Safety, Economic Development and Government Affairs, which Gabbard chairs, wrapped up. At 1 p.m., Gabbard was back in her normal seat for the Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee meeting.

In between, she held her campaign event while her Council colleagues participated in the Parks and Cultural Affairs Committee of which Gabbard is not a voting member. (She could help the committee maintain quorum and could ask questions or participate in discussion, however.)

Gabbard promised she won’t let campaigning force her to miss any committee or Council meetings.

“None. That’s the commitment,” she said. “I would hope that you would hold me to that.”

Meanwhile, four members of Gabbard’s Council staff found their way over to the campaign event a few blocks away, and some were even sporting supportive T-shirts. The ones that spoke to Civil Beat said they were on their lunch breaks.

“They have signed out and are not on city time,” Gabbard said, adding that she did not encourage or ask them to support the campaign. “They’re there to work on my council staff, and what they do on their own time they do on their own time. I’m honored to have them here, just as I am everyone else.”

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