Keith Amemiya, an Oahu businessman, attorney and former director of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association, announced on Tuesday that he is running for mayor of Honolulu.

“I’m running for mayor because too many of our people are losing hope that we can meet our greatest challenges: stop the scandals, cost overruns and corruption,” he said. “Honolulu deserves a mayor who refuses to let our future slip away, a mayor who embraces honesty and integrity and restored trust.”

The mayoral election is still about a year off. It will be on the primary ballot on Aug. 8. If no one wins the seat outright, a runoff will be held on Nov. 3, general election day.

Amemiya, 53, is the senior vice president of Island Holdings, the parent company of Island Insurance and four other local subsidiaries. He will likely run against several candidates who have yet to officially announce their campaigns. City Councilwoman Kymberly Pine, who is term-limited in her current role, has been fundraising for nearly two years for the mayor’s seat. Former U.S. Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa is also running for mayor after losing a bid for governor that Amemiya supported with a $1,000 donation last year.

Keith Amemiya announces his candidacy for the office of Mayor at Ala Wai Field with his family and supporters.
Keith Amemiya announced his candidacy for mayor at Ala Wai Field with his family and supporters. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“The same politicians holding office year after year, running for office time after time, have not delivered,” said Amemiya, who is a first-time candidate.

Prior to his work with Island Holdings, he worked for nearly 12 years as director the Hawaii High School Athletic Association. At the time of his hire in 1998, he was an attorney making a six-figure salary and was not the obvious choice for the role, for which he said he took a pay cut. The organization had recently gone independent from the Department of Education and was suddenly in charge of its own fundraising. Amemiya used his professional contacts in the business and legal fields to raise money.

“I negotiated sponsorships, private partnerships and statewide TV and radio deals that raised tens of millions of non-taxpayer dollars,” he said.

Amemiya is the campaign treasurer for U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Keith Amemiya hugs his wife Bonny Amemiya before announcing his candidacy for Mayor of Honolulu at Ala Wai Park.
Keith Amemiya hugs his wife, Bonny Amemiya, before announcing his candidacy for Honolulu mayor on Tuesday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

In the past, he served as an executive administrator and secretary of the University of Hawaii Board of Regents and as a member of the Honolulu Police Commission. In 2008, he resigned as vice chairman of the police commission amid a conflict of interest investigation by Honolulu Ethics Commission. Amemiya had accepted a $25,000 donation from the police union for a Hawaii High School Athletic Association fundraiser. Amemiya told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser at the time that he didn’t think the gift was a problem because it went directly to schools, but he resigned to eliminate unnecessary distractions.

If he’s elected, Amemiya said he would work to end homelessness by “dramatically increasing” mental health and addiction services.

“I will do this by building public-private partnerships to leverage taxpayer dollars and finally make real progress on this issue,” he said, noting the subject is personal to him because his mother, a public school teacher, struggled with mental illness and left his family when he was 10 years old. “While she has never lived on our streets, there were times that homelessness was very possible.”

On other policy matters, Amemiya said he supports building the rail project to Ala Moana and wants to use technology to solve problems including traffic, climate change and police response times. Overall, he said Honolulu needs “new blood” and innovative ideas.

“As mayor, I will think big and not settle for the status quo,” he said. “We can and must do better. We owe that to our future generations.”

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