Roads, sewers and homelessness. That’s what’s on the minds of leading contenders for Tulsi Gabbard’s vacant Honolulu City Council seat.

The seat’s district includes parts of Makiki, downtown Honolulu, Liliha, Pauoa Valley, Nuuanu, Papakolea and Kalihi. Gabbard, the Democratic candidate for Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, in August announced her early resignation from the seat, reasoning that her successor could be elected Nov. 6.

Civil Beat narrowed the long list of District 6 hopefuls down to the four candidates seen to have the best chances of winning the race: former Republican state Rep. Sam Aiona, Democratic state Sen. Carol Fukunaga, May Mizuno (wife of Democratic state Sen. John Mizuno) and former Honolulu City Council Chair Jon Yoshimura.

Still, there are sixteen people running for the seat, meaning that the victor can win with relatively few votes.

“It’s a winner-takes-all race,” said John Hart, chair of Hawaii Pacific University’s communication department. “Anyone who can get into double figures can have a shot.”

Assuming roughly the same number of District 6 residents will vote this year as in the 2010 general election, a candidate could win in November with about 1,600 votes.

Still, hopefuls who either are already well-known, have well-established campaigns or are running on a single, critical issue (read: rail) have the best chances at winning the race, according to Hart.

“They need to be people who already have prime name recognition, people who already have a campaign apparatus set up,” he said. “Or single-issue candidates. Sam Aiona is running flat-out anti-rail. Normally that might not help you, but in a race where you only need 10 percent, he could get 10 percent of the people to come out and say they’re voting for him because of that.”

Sam Aiona

Indeed, Aiona says he’s one of the only candidates to oppose the $5.26 billion rail project. He promised to ask “the tough questions” about the plan if elected. (Mizuno also opposes the project, according to her survey answers.)

“I’m opposed to the process in which this rail project is being conducted,” said Aiona. “For example, when the Supreme Court says that you must complete archeological findings, the city says ‘yes, we’ll do it’ but then goes full speed ahead. That’s disrespectful of the voters.”

Aiona also said the rail would be too costly to maintain.

But Aiona said he has other, more nitty-gritty concerns, too.

Borrowing a page from mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano‘s playbook, Aiona says that rail has taken money away from Honolulu’s other important infrastructure needs.

Finding money to repair the district’s roads, sewers and the like is the first of three issues he plans to tackle if elected.

Homelessness comes second. As the vice chair of Hope Services, Inc. — a Catholic nonprofit that provides services for the homeless — Aiona said encouraging partnerships between charitable organizations and the city would best solve the problem.

“I know firsthand what the problems are and what the solutions are for homelessness,” he said. What nonprofits are doing “to assist the homeless are things the city should be jumping all over…The role of our own government is to make sure they (the nonprofits) have the resources.”

Aiona’s third priority is fostering respect for voters among government officials.

“We need government that is honest, transparent, that communicates to them (the public),” he said. “People feel like rail has shut down their votes, and that’s why they’re opposed to the rail project. They’re not opposed a transit oriented development.”

He pointed to the city’s original vision for the project: a $2.8 billion rail that would run from Kapolei to the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

“The route was changed. The amount continues to change,” he said. “I was never for rail, I was very skeptical from the beginning, but I knew that the west side needed traffic relief. After learning about the changes that have occurred I cannot in good conscience let the rail happen.”

Aiona supports an alternative rapid-transit plans such as Honolulu mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano’s bus rapid transit system.

(Check out Aiona’s answers to Civil Beat’s District 6 survey.)

Carol Fukunaga

Fukunaga, on the other hand, generally supports the rail project, provided that it meets “specific conditions and climates.” (See her answers to our questionnaire for more.)

But she agrees with Aiona on the homelessness front, saying that “shared efforts” between government agencies and the nonprofit sector would help remedy problem. She said homelessness is particularly prevalent in the southern portion of District 6.

Infrastructure repairs, she said, are her priority for the mauka part of the district. She cited worn-down roads and sidewalks, potholes and water and sewer rate increases as problems she would tackle if elected.

“We need to have a systematic plan for repairs that we can now kind of completed,” she said.

Jon Yoshimura

Like Fukunaga, Yoshimura — the only District 6 candidate who has served on the city council before — thinks the rail project should go forward.

“But it needs improvement,” he wrote in his survey. “If we don’t pursue rail today, we will postpone the inevitable, miss out on an opportunity to take advantage of smart growth in the form of Transit Oriented Development, and leave to our children and grandchildren with a future spent wasting time, money, and a decent quality of life stuck in traffic, with solutions that will only grow more costly.”

Yoshimura’s priorities center around public safety and “our aging infrastructure.”

First and foremost, Yoshimura would ensure that the city’s public safety agencies receive proper funding.

Yoshimura also said he would focus on improving Oahu’s sewer system. To do so, he said, would require gradually raising residents’ sewer fees.

“We need to find a way to raise the rates over a period of time so that we can get the improvements done,” he said. His approach would entail educating people as to why the raises are necessary, scaling the increases so as to “make it predictable” and somehow minimizing the financial burden on those who rely on fixed incomes.

“Nobody likes to talk about sewer fee increases, especially during campaign time, but I think it’s a responsible thing to do,” he said.

Yoshimura also said that homelessness is a prime problem for the district, particularly in its urban core.

“We need to have a system of shared responsibilities between the state and city to address homelessness on a global scale,” he said, adding that the lack of cohesion among nonprofits has shown solutions like Aiona’s are problematic. “Right now, we’re contracting with a lot of nonprofits, but it’s not solving the problem.”

“We need to identify each single homeless person on this island,” he said. “Estimates range from 15,000 to 30,000 people — that’s not too many people to count. We need to put faces on these people. We need to find out why they’re homeless. We need need to find out why they’re out there on the streets. And we have to put some significant assets toward it.”

Other candidates

Mizuno, the other major District 6 candidate, did not make herself available for an interview. Instead, she directed Civil Beat to her questionnaire.

Click on other candidates’ names to view their answers to Civil Beat’s Honolulu Council District 6 survey. (The other five candidates did not submit their responses.)

C. Kaui Jochanan Amsterdam

Ryan Kapuniai

Steven Miller

Kevin Nakasato

Chu Lan Shubert-Kwock

Christopher Smith

Bob Vieira

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