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One of the few surprises in the primary election was Democrat Sharon Moriwaki’s victory over well-known incumbent Brickwood Galuteria in Senate District 12 (Kakaako-Waikiki).
The Kakaako community activist not only won, but she swept the race by a full 20 percentage points over Galuteria.
How did she do it? Moriwaki said Saturday that as a relative unknown the biggest challenge was coming up with enough money to get her message out. She largely funded her own campaign with two personal loans totaling $45,000. In addition, she raised $24,865 in contributions, much of it from family and friends.
“When I decided to run I took out the personal loans because I felt I had to do my best,” Moriwaki says. “I am not well known in the business or political community that stretches from Kakaako through the Sheridan area to Waikiki. People do not donate money to unknowns. I made a decision to spend my own money to get my name and my message out there.”
The 72-year-old’s message to voters was, “I will be your voice. I will be working for you to find solutions.” In her campaign, she repeatedly accused Galuteria of being absent from the community.
Galuteria is a 10-year incumbent, a musician and formerly a popular radio personality. He is the former chairman of the Democratic Party of Hawaii. A Native Hawaiian, he entered the primary with high name recognition and more than $100,000 to spend.
“We designed a plan to reach the right people at the right moment,” a disappointed Galuteria said Saturday. “We did the best we could. I could look back on it and focus forever on what we could have done differently. But that will not change anything. What happened is the way the lava flows.”
Interestingly, documents from Galuteria’s campaign spending report for the period that ended July 27 show he spent $37,034 on his race, only about a third of the $115,000 he had in his campaign war chest.
The particular challenge of campaigning in District 12 is that 70 percent of the voters live in secured high rises. Moriwaki says she walked door-to-door twice in three months, but only in the 30 percent of the district where there are individual homes and businesses.
Another challenge is there are very few residential homes and small business sites for placing campaign signs.
Moriwaki reached high-rise residents with seven mailings, each costing about $5,500 for printing and postage.
She also made it known to high-rise dwellers that they could meet her in person for “chat sessions” at three restaurants where she set up shop on designated days: Kakaako Kitchen, Margaritas and Cheeseburger Waikiki. She said she often sat alone for long periods with only about three or four people showing up at the sessions, but by offering personal time for visits she made the point she was accessible.
And in the high rises where she knew residents, she held coffee hours.
Her campaign treasurer, Jane Sugimura, says at the coffee sessions people who did not know Moriwaki were impressed by her accomplishments in fighting for the rights of the community as well as her message that she would give residents a voice.
Moriwaki is the founder of Kakaako United, a nonprofit she formed to help Kakaako’s local residents and small businesses. She moved to Kakaako 10 years ago in a condo in One Waterfront (Mauka) Towers at a time when she says there was still hope Kakaako would become a mixed-income residential community “with lots of large canopy trees, grass and walking promenades.”
Her victories include working with the community to get the state to nix a developer’s plan in 2011 for a 650-foot residential tower at 690 Pohukaina St.; getting the governor to step in when a developer slapped unaffordable rent hikes on elderly residents at the Na Lei Hulu building on Cooke Street; and making sure Alexander and Baldwin preserved mature monkeypod trees at its high-rise residential development, The Collection, on the former CompUSA site on Ala Moana Boulevard.
Moriwaki had never run for political office. But she has worked in state government for more than 30 years, beginning in 1986 as then-Gov. John Waihee’s Labor Department deputy director. He later appointed her to serve as the Human Resources Department director.
Moriwaki’s job before retiring this year was associate director of the University of Hawaii Manoa’s Public Policy Center.
Political science professor Colin Moore is a friend and former colleague of Moriwaki at the policy center, which he directs. He says Moriwaki’s victory could serve as “a nice case study on what a candidate needs to do to connect to a community to win when taking on a well-known, well-liked politician and entertainer who has no ethical baggage.”
“Incumbents so rarely lose in Hawaii,” Moore says. “Sharon is a dogged campaigner. Anybody driving by Washington Intermediate School could see her sign-wavers out there early in the race. She is a very determined person who has been committed to the community for a long time.”
Moore says taking on an incumbent requires making a personal connection, but also money.
“It always takes money. A challenger has to have money.”
Moriwaki’s treasurer says the campaign has about $10,000 left for the general election race against first-time Republican candidate Lynn Barry Mariano, a retired U.S. Army major who grew up in Kalihi-Palama. He graduated from Farrington High School and Chaminade University. His last job before he retired was working as a civilian in Washington, D.C., to help upgrade physical security at the Pentagon. He owns a condo at the Moana Pacific in Kakaako where he has lived for the last three and a half years.
Mariano has $10,386 in his campaign treasury, of which $3,000 is a personal loan. He estimates it will take about $25,000 to get his name and message out to voters before the general election.
Mariano, 61, is one of only five GOP candidates running for the state Senate, which currently has no Republicans.
“We absolutely need to get one or two Republicans elected to the Senate,” says Hawaii GOP Chairwoman Shirlene Dela Cruz Ostrov.
The party will connect Mariano with donors to help him pay for campaign materials like mailers and assist him with voter lists and volunteers. It will also give him a computer app from the Republican National Committee to help him target Republican-leaning voters in the district.
“We were unable to predict Brickwood Galuteria’s loss, but now it opens doors to make it a little easier for what would have been an absolutely uphill battle for a Republican,” Ostrov says.
Mariano says he can make a difference by bringing fresh ideas to the community using the leadership skills he acquired in the military.
He says Galuteria’s defeat has made it clear that voters in Ala Moana, Kakaako and Waikiki are tired of the status quo.
“Whoever wins will bring change,” Mariano says.
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