Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 8 Primary Election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities will be if elected.
The following came from Audrey Keesing, candidate for Honolulu mayor. The other candidates are Keith Amemiya, Rick Blangiardi, Duke Bourgoin, Ernest Caravalho, John Carroll, Karl Dicks, Tim Garry, Colleen Hanabusa, Mufi Hannemann, Choon James, Micah Mussell, Kymberly Pine, Bud Stonebraker and Ho Yin (Jason) Wong.
1. Oahu’s economy has been hard hit with the outbreak of the coronavirus and measures to prevent its spread, mainly because of the collapse of the tourism industry. Should we continue to rely largely on the visitor industry for economic vitality? What concrete steps would you take to bring tourism back? What else would you do to diversify the island’s economy?
No, we shouldn’t rely on the tourist industry. The world as we know it has changed drastically. I would like to focus on bringing visitors into Hawaii from New Zealand and countries that do not have COVID-19 like the Marshall Islands. I want to see what our local economy can do without tourism, too. Perhaps we should even plan one month of the year to be tourist-free.
I believe we must reach for a sustainable future. That means we can supply enough food ourselves grown here and raised here that we can feed everyone. We could have eggs and chickens for everyone. I know that the products we make here should be distributed worldwide.
2. As the economy struggles, the city may have to cut expenses and seek new revenue sources. What would you cut? And what is an area where you see potential new revenue?
I think the Liquor Commission is bloated and inefficient with $4.6 million and 56 employees. I think the Police Department needs a city Department of Health with public health professionals to help citizens finding themselves homeless or mentally challenged or even schizophrenic in our public parks. Everyone should be able to have IDs made and should have housing opportunities.
The current HUD Section 8 budget is $150,000. Out of $2.8 billion, that’s ludicrous. Let’s get HUD to give more money for low income and disabled. Obviously, we could find revenue by producing marijuana to market as medicine. In Eugene, Oregon, bus rides are free!
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on Oahu?
I would have ended flights from Europe when the president shut down flights from China. I would have locked down earlier. This is hindsight. I think if we left the beaches open with rules about distancing, we might have been OK. I wish the CDC recommendation that all the city and county bathrooms be provided with hand soap and be open had happened. It was foolish and inhumane to close them down.
4. Oahu residents, government officials and developers have often been split over efforts to build new projects like renewable energy facilities, recreational complexes or even affordable housing. What would you do to make sure important projects are successful while respecting community input and concerns?
We have Environmental Impact Statements, but we need Cultural Impact Statements, too. The same space can be harmoniously used in different ways by every culture we have on Oahu, as we see at beach parks. We need all developers to use solar and upgrade the sewer systems, if they bid a project.
Missing recreation facilities include car racing, motorcycling, women’s competitive sports, competitive skateboarding parks, roller rinks, etc. Not baseball fields built on one-way highways where the EMTs can’t take you to the hospital so easily, in the backyard with beachfront taken care of by our community of indigenous Hawaiians who weren’t consulted and on land of archaeological significance. I want affordable housing, not more skyscrapers and hotels, and they need to be futuristic. LEED architecture.
5. How should the city pay for the operation and maintenance of rail once it’s built? Do project plans or financing plans need to be changed as the economy struggles in the wake of the pandemic?
I question whether the rail will ever be built. Maybe it will only help some people on the west side get to the stadium, airport and UH. I don’t think the 20th century rail fits in the 21st century. I would employ local people, not people from out of state, to continue the project. I would plan the bathrooms and the exits off and on the rail, not bid out the half-mile around the stops to bidders. I don’t see rail as the economic priority and it won’t replace buses or HandiVans or cars. It won’t be a money-maker for the city.
6. Homelessness remains a problem on Oahu. What would you do differently from what the current leadership is doing? Do you support the enforcement of laws targeted at unsheltered homeless people such as the sit-lie ban? Why or why not?
No, I don’t support the sit-lie ban. I want rubbish cans in every bathroom by every bus stop and protection from the sun at every stop with solar power and a help button, if not a power supply to recharge cellphones. We have no public phones. I want hand sanitizer in every public bathroom. I will put a moratorium on plastic tampon applicator products sold in this state because they clog sewers, pollute the ocean and make bathrooms pilau. I will make my city Department of Health responsible for people in the parks needing help. I will see that my public health and community health workers find housing, like Steadfast or Section 8.
7. Recent deaths of citizens at the hands of police are igniting protests and calls for reform across the country, primarily aimed at preventing discrimination against people of color. What should be done to improve policing and police accountability in Honolulu? Should oversight of the police department be strengthened or reformed?
I was mistaken for a prostitute in 1993 while visiting my girlfriend at a bar the night of a prostitution sweep. I suffered from a sleeper hold by a police officer who was never disciplined. I refused to get into his unmarked car and asked for a female officer.
Back then, and until recently, prostitutes were raped or harassed while under arrest or to prove they were working the streets or massage parlors. Chief Ballard may suspend officers, but we need transparency and accountability. We are known for trafficking sex workers in Hawaii, adults and children.
We need to hire more female officers and not use them as prostitution decoys. Real policing is catching criminals. Those rape kits that got too old and thrown out, I call bullshit.
8. Honolulu has some of the worst traffic congestion in the nation. Some see rail as part of the solution. What else should the city do to alleviate congestion?
We can learn from using Zoom that we don’t all need to be on the road first thing in the morning or dinner by 7 p.m. We can go to a four-day week at work and learn to work remotely. We aren’t dependent on the physical office anymore for some jobs. Let’s take what we’ve learned and apply it to life with COVID-19.
9. Hawaii’s public records law mandates that public records be made available whenever possible. Gov. David Ige suspended the open government laws under an emergency order during the pandemic. Do you agree or disagree with his action? What would you do to ensure the public has access to open meetings and public records in a timely fashion?
I will restore open government transparency. What’s to hide? I disagree with Gov. Ige’s action to suspend public records because of the Pandemic. I would publicize all meetings on Zoom or wherever they were held.
I would allow full participation in all public meetings by using a combination of technology and walk-in by social distancing. These meetings can be held in very large spaces, instead of congested rooms. They can be broadcast live.
10. What more should Honolulu be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
I want to condemn buildings and land that we need to let go of due to rising oceans, and plan for roads to move and beachfront homes to disappear. My family summer homes of my maternal great-grandmother and great-great-grandfather went into the ocean on the East coast of New Jersey, I’m told due to hurricanes.
The airport is at sea level. Will we land on base at Wheeler? Why aren’t we treating sewage properly? Let’s stop dumping our waste into the ocean without proper treatment. There has to be a way to do this and to stop paying debt every year.
11.What other issue would you like to discuss here?
Discrimination. It’s the topic of the day. We are not skin colors. I am not white. I don’t identify as a color, nor should you. In the beginning of immigration there were signs on businesses that said Irish and Italian need not apply for a job. All whites didn’t get along because the concept of whites and blacks didn’t exist. We are a multi-ethnically diverse people and so are our families, our friends and our loved ones.
I like the word hapa. I am not a dumb “h-word.” I don’t use the “n-word.” Let’s lead by example, so the mainland United States sees what it can look like in 20 years. I wish them the peace we have and a sense of humor about differences, instead of violence.
Myself, I’ve dated and I love(d) people from many ethnic backgrounds. As an academic observer at the United Nations, I networked to pass the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007. I intend to implement this document and uphold indigenous human rights and civil rights.