Early last year, a slim Honolulu City Council majority ousted Ernie Martin as chairman. Now, Martin is poised to wrest back the leadership post in a council reorganization that could have big political and policy implications.
On Friday, four Council members introduced a resolution to restore Martin as their chairman, replacing current chairman Ron Menor. A fifth council member, Carol Fukunaga, is named as the floor leader in the resolution, which also proposes that Kymberly Pine serve as vice chair.
Martin and Pine have signed the resolution along with Council members Ann Kobayashi and Trevor Ozawa. Fukunaga did not respond to a request for comment late Friday.
Previously, Pine helped form the five-member bloc that narrowly tilted power to Menor when, in December 2016, she signed a resolution to make him chairman.
The council will hold a special meeting March 19 to decide the matter. The proposed shakeup comes as Martin’s time on the council approaches its end later this year due to term limits. He’s currently running for the open 1st Congressional District seat.
“I was able to hold onto the chairman’s seat for five and a half years,” Martin said on Civil Beat’s Pod Squad during a podcast interview in December. “People don’t realize, the City Council is only nine members. It’s not that easy to hold onto a leadership position given that you only need four friends at a given time and things can change.”
His imminent departure from the council will leave the members who are pushing to make him chairman better positioned to replace him as the 2020 Honolulu mayoral race nears.
Both Pine and council member Ikaika Anderson have expressed interest in running for mayor to replace Kirk Caldwell. Pine and Anderson declined to comment Friday on the proposed reorganization. Martin and Menor did not respond to requests for comment late Friday.
Beyond the politics, the possible shuffle could have policy consequences as well, including on city budget matters.
In the past year, Martin, Fukunaga, and Kobayashi have comprised their own faction of the nine-member council. The group often voices minority dissent against measures proposed by Caldwell, including the tax and fee increases last June, the issuance of $350 million in general obligation bonds to pay for rail and a measure that eliminated the $4.8 billion cap on how much general excise tax money can be used to build rail.
Ozawa sometimes joins the trio, although he represented the crucial swing vote in favor of the rail bonds in June.
Martin has voiced his support for rail, but if he presides over the council again he could be in a stronger position to challenge Caldwell’s recent proposal to float $44 million in bonds next year to help pay for rail construction.
“I think the mayor’s looking forward” to further explaining why that plan to borrow for rail is important, Caldwell spokesman Andrew Pereira said Friday.
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