The election of a new Honolulu prosecutor this year is unusual for several reasons.
The first is that the incumbent, who has been on the job for the past decade, is not seeking reelection, even though the office has no term limits. He previously served as prosecutor from 1988 to 1996.
(Oahu residents voting in November’s election will be asked to decide whether the prosecuting attorney should be limited to two consecutive four-year terms, like the mayor and City Council members.)
The second thing that’s unusual is that incumbent Keith Kaneshiro has been on paid leave for over a year.
That’s because he is a target in a federal corruption probe that has spawned convictions of the former Honolulu police chief and the chief’s wife — a former deputy prosecutor in Kaneshiro’s office — as well as a number of Honolulu police officers. Another Kaneshiro deputy prosecutor is also on paid leave as the FBI investigation continues. So is Honolulu’s top city attorney.
And the third reason the race to replace Kaneshiro is unusual is that 12% of voters say they don’t like the six top candidates and another 54% are unsure.
Two-thirds of voters surveyed in The Civil Beat/Hawaii News Now Poll haven’t a clue who should succeed a man who has been city prosecutor off and on since George H. W. Bush defeated Michael Dukakis for the U.S. presidency.
Peter Carlisle was prosecutor from 1997 until 2010, and he briefly toyed with running again this year, though the City Charter raised questions whether he still met the necessary criteria.
One candidate — Steve Alm, who has been a judge, a prosecutor and a U.S. attorney — is leading the other five candidates with 21%.
It’s a double-digit lead notable mostly because the other candidates barely register in the low single digits.
Matthew Fitch, managing partner of MRG Research, which conducted the poll, said the only other thing that stands out in the prosecutor’s poll is that older voters support Alm.
“Age is a big factor,” said Fitch. “Alm does tremendously better with older people, and older people vote. I assume that they know who he is.”
The other candidates in the running are Megan Kau, a former deputy prosecutor, who garnered 5% of the poll numbers; Dwight Nadamoto, the acting prosecutor, at 3%; public defender Jacquie Esser at 2%; and former deputy prosecuting attorney RJ Brown and criminal defense attorney Tae Kim each at 1%.
“I don’t really know who these people are,” said Carolynn Griffith, a retired minister in Hawaii Kai. “I recognize some names, but I feel I have to research them to find out more.”
Griffith prides herself on keeping up with the news — “I watch a lot of TV. I read Civil Beat on my computer” — but admits she knows little about the candidates.
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.
Edward Mederios, a 94-year-old Kailua resident, said he would vote for Alm. Maybe.
“Yes, I guess so,” he said. “There are so many people running right now and I really don’t know much about them. Steve Alm, I know a little. A judge, right?”
Mederios does know who Keith Kaneshiro is, however: “I know he had a few problems.”
The same goes for Andrea McClelland, a retired civil servant in Kapolei.
“I was very disappointed with Keith Kaneshiro,” she said. “I think he violated the trust he was given.”
But McClelland likes Alm.
“I think he is quite capable and knowledgeable,” she said. “I like the way he speaks, and I hope he can back it up. I like the way he takes good action.”
Griffith, the retired minister, does know about Kaneshiro. She’s looking for an honest candidate, someone who is a law-abiding citizen who “has some scruples.”
“Kaneshiro just needs to go,” she said.
He will go, but a runoff on Nov. 3 may be necessary to determine who will replace him. If no candidate takes 50% plus 1 of the vote, the top two finishers will advance.
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