Honolulu City Councilman Trevor Ozawa narrowly defeated challenger Tommy Waters, coming from behind when final votes were counted Wednesday morning in a bitter rematch to represent District 4, which covers East Honolulu.

Late Tuesday, Waters had 17,795 votes — 72 more than Ozawa, who had led earlier in the evening. But when the final votes were tallied, including late-arriving mail ballots, Ozawa surged ahead, receiving 18,357 votes to Waters’ 18,335.

The 22-vote margin was smaller than the last time the two squared off for the same seat in 2014. In that contest Waters lost to Ozawa by 41 votes and unsuccessfully sought a recount. District 4 includes Hawaii Kai to Wilhelmina Rise and includes Waikiki, portions of Kapahulu, Black Point and Diamond Head.

Councilman Trevor Ozawa, center, and former Republican Congressman Charles Djou, right, and speak with Reggie Castanares of the Plumbers and Fitters Union as results came in Tuesday night. Natanya Friedheim/Civil Beat

Before the final tally, a roomful of supporters was waiting out the results with Waters at the Wisp restaurant on Kalakaua Avenue. Waters was optimistic.

“I feel great,” Waters said. “I’m at a loss for words but quite honestly it’s just been such a roller-coaster ride.”

Councilman Joey Manahan, who represents Kalihi, speculated that a win for Waters would mean defusing a lot of the tension that has built up not just between the council and the Mayor Kirk Caldwell administration, but among council members.

But then came the comback.

In the City Council’s only other general election race, Councilman Brandon Elefante defeated Kelly Kitashima. He had 51.3 percent to her 42.2 percent. Elefante represents District 8, which includes lower Aiea, Pearl City, Waimalu, Newtown, Pearl City, Sea View, Crestview, Waipio Gentry and Waipahu.

The Ozawa-Waters race had the potential to shift the balance of power on the nine-member council in favor of Mayor Kirk Caldwell — if Waters had won.

Ozawa joined a handful of supporters, including Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi and former Republican Congressman Charles Djou, at The Brilliant Ox, a restaurant in Ala Moana Center, Tuesday night.

“I still feel good,” Ozawa said after the second round of numbers had him only slightly behind. “Wait for the third (returns), we should pull ahead.”

When those returns arrived he was still behind, but in the end he was right.

City Council District IV seat. Tommy Waters celebrate in Honolulu, Hawaii. on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (Photo by Ronen Zilberman
Tommy Waters has lost back-to-back close races to his rival Trevor Ozawa. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat

Council Chair Ernie Martin, a longtime critic of Caldwell, currently leads a five-member majority bloc that has voted against a number of the mayor’s proposals.

When Martin regained the chairmanship in March, he appointed Ozawa as the powerful Budget Committee chair, replacing Manahan.

Martin is term-limited and set to leave office at the end of the year. Heidi Tsuneyoshi, an aide for Martin, won outright in the August primary election to replace him in representing District 2, which covers Oahu’s North Shore. Also in August, incumbent Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga won re-election against three challengers to represent central Honolulu’s District 6.

honolulu City Council candidate Kelly Kitashima and Brandon Elefante sign in Pearl City.
Councilman Brandon Elefante won re-election against Kelly Kitashima. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The adversarial relationship between Ozawa and the mayor became clear in recent weeks when the Federal Transit Administration demanded $44 million in city funds be dedicated to Honolulu’s rail project.

Caldwell accused Ozawa of stalling a measure that would allow the city to float bonds for the $44 million. The measures were assigned to Ozawa’s committee until Martin created a new committee with himself as chair. The committee passed the measures with a 7-2 vote, Ozawa and Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi voted against them.

The friendship between Waters and Caldwell dates back to their time serving in the state House. Waters’ campaign has support from Caldwell allies on the council, including council members Elefante, Ikaika Anderson and Joey Manahan. The Friends of Caldwell gave the Waters’ campaign $4,000, the maximum donation council candidates can receive.

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