If the primary election for mayor of Honolulu were held this week, former television executive Rick Blangiardi and former Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa would appear set for a general election runoff on Nov. 3.

That’s because it takes 50% plus 1 of the vote to win the Aug. 8 primary outright.

The Civil Beat Poll, conducted with Hawaii News Now, shows Blangiardi leading Hanabusa 21% to 15%.

Businessman Keith Amemiya is third with 10% and Honolulu City Councilwoman Kym Pine is fourth with 9%. Choon James, a real estate agent and community activist, is at 3%.

But the real takeaway from this poll is that the mayor’s race appears up for grabs. Nearly one-third of those surveyed (30%) say they are unsure who they’ll vote for, while another 12% won’t vote for any of those candidates.

“Blangiardi is in an interesting position, but this race is crying out for a late entrant,” said Matthew Fitch, managing partner of MRG Research which conducted the poll. “There is a very real possibility that a well-known late entrant could garner immediate support.”

If no one else emerges — the filing deadline is 4:30 p.m. Tuesday — Fitch said many of the undecided, who tend to skew younger, will be looking for a fresh face.

That may favor Amemiya or Blangiardi, who are both first-time candidates for public office.

Amemiya is perhaps best known for his work as the former director of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association. Until recently, he was the senior vice president of Island Holdings, the parent company of Island Insurance and four other local subsidiaries.

Blangiardi is the former general manager of Hawaii News Now, KGMB and KHNL television stations. He had a long-standing commentary spot on the evening news and his campaign ads are airing in nearly the same time slot. Before he went to work in TV he played football for the University of Hawaii and also was a football coach there.

A combined 42% of voters surveyed say they are unsure which candidate to support or don’t support any of the current candidates in the race. 

Hanabusa served twice in the U.S. House of Representatives and was also president of the Hawaii state Senate. She ran for governor in 2018 but lost to Gov. David Ige.

Pine previously served four terms in the state House and is in her second term on the Honolulu City Council.

Watch the video above or click here to read Hawaii News Now’s report on the latest poll.

Bad News For Hanabusa?

The Civil Beat/HNN Poll, conducted May 18-20, surveyed 1,038 registered voters on Oahu using a combination of interactive voice response technology (touch-tone polling) and a survey administered online.

The results were weighted to reflect a mix of 50% landlines and 50% cell phones. Cells phones contacted via text were routed to the online survey. The overall margin of error is 3 percentage points.

The poll asked voters about the five leading candidates for mayor.

(According to the most recent candidate filing report from the Hawaii Office of Elections, 14 people have pulled papers to run for Honolulu mayor.)

Fitch said Hanabusa’s campaign may be in trouble. The candidate does well with liberals and Democrats but not with Republicans and unaffiliated voters.

“She has the highest name recognition but is only at 15%,” he said. “While she does have a good electoral track record and has many strengths, she is viewed as partisan — and this is a nonpartisan office. I think that makes it harder for her to run for mayor.”

Colleen Hanabusa spoke to the media after officially filing to run for mayor of Honolulu last week. Chad Blair/Civil Beat/2020

Kawika Freitas says he will probably vote for Blangiardi because he wants real change.

“I think the political scene needs to be mixed up, and I think that if we vote for a person like Colleen Hanabusa, change won’t happen,” said the Hawaii Kai resident. “She goes from one seat to the next seat to the next seat, a giant round robin, and we never get anything done.”

Freitas, who works in construction, doesn’t know too much about Blangiardi. But he’s watched him give his HNN commentaries over the years and he likes what he’s heard. The endorsement from SHOPO, the police union, is a plus, too.

“I think his role in the news media and being an executive in management will be better than another lawyer who becomes a career politician,” he said. “And my parents are lawyers.”

Rick Blangiardi announces his run for Mayor of Honolulu at Old Stadium Park.
Rick Blangiardi announced his run for mayor of Honolulu at Old Stadium Park in February. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

David Kota, a retiree living in Mililani, favors Hanabusa.

“She’s a pretty tough lady — country girl, Waianae,” he said. “She seems to be stable. She’s capable.”

Kota added, “To be honest most of the candidates are good. It would not bother me if someone else won.”

‘We Need New Blood’

Deborah Buccigrossi, a retired physician from Kaiser, has not made up her mind on the mayor’s race. But she knows the names of who’s running — there are campaign signs plastered all over her Kailua neighborhood.

The challenge for Buccigrossi is she doesn’t know much about any of them, other than having seen and heard of Hanabusa and Blangiardi.

“Amemiya is a businessman, but that’s all I know,” she said, saying that she has yet to do her research on the candidates.

But Buccigrossi does care about homelessness.

“That issue is pretty deep for me,” she said. “I just think we are not being very effective in what we have tried to do.”

Buccigrossi has helped with the annual point-in-time counts.

“It’s just so heart-wrenching to hear these people’s stories,” she said, adding that a candidate’s position on the homeless could influence her vote.

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 in August 2019. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

For Tony Cox of Koolina, however, he says he doesn’t like any of the current candidates. He usually votes Republican but says he is open to voting for a Democrat. But, while the mayor’s race is nonpartisan, Cox believes Hawaii is firmly controlled by Democrats and that the one-party rule has led to corruption.

“They are all in the same boat, and their pockets are looking heavy,” he said, referring to campaign contributions from special interests.

Who does Cox want for mayor?

A “fresh face” with “young eyes” who is not a “career politician.”

“We really need new blood,” said Cox, a biomedical engineer and recent transplant from the mainland. “I think even I could do a better job than the ones that are running.”

Coming Friday: The race for Honolulu prosecutor.

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