The three candidates in the Honolulu City Council District 7 race have one thing in common: no one is over 30.
But they all have experience with government or community leadership they hope will get them into public office.
Radiant Cordero, Jacob Aki and Ryan Mandado are vying to succeed Honolulu City Councilman Joey Manahan, who is reaching his two-term limit for the district that covers Kalihi, Iwilei, Salt Lake, Hickam, Aliamanu, Ford Island and Sand Island.
Each of the candidates touts their deep ties to the Kalihi-Palama community and identify many of the same things as biggest challenges for the district hugging Chinatown and downtown Honolulu: a dire need for better roads and safer streets, affordable housing and well-thought-out development projects around the stations planned along the Honolulu rail line.
All are first-time candidates for elected office.
The District 7 race is one of five open races this year for the Honolulu City Council, whose nine members are restricted to two consecutive four-year terms and are paid $69,000 a year.
At least two of the candidates have establishment ties: Cordero, 30, serves as chief of staff to Manahan and was his legislative aide when he was vice-speaker in the state House.
Aki, 25, has been chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English since 2016.
Mandado, 27, is chief education officer for Dreamhouse Ewa Beach, a charter school, a former member of the Hawaii State Teachers Association government relations committee and former chairman of the Kalihi-Palama Neighborhood Board.
Cordero, a Mid-Pacific Institute and University of Hawaii Manoa graduate who grew up in Kalihi Kai, said the most pressing issue facing the district is housing instability.
She supports a vacant home tax, better investment in mental health services and substance abuse treatment centers and disfavors expanding the sit-lie ban for the homeless.
A former associate editor of the Fil-Am Courier, the long-running Filipino publication founded by her mother and aunt, Cordero said her chief of staff experience positions her for the City Council seat, since she can “just jump right in.”
“I know where all the projects stand. I know the pulse of the community, not just the priorities of all different parts of the district but have really gotten to know the community,” she said.
If elected, Cordero wants to prioritize the Sand Island wastewater treatment plant, the improvement of roads and transit, and focus on holding Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation accountable for its budget and ground work.
“I see these change orders happening. How we do get better oversight? I want to change that charter amendment to provide greater oversight,” she said.
District 7 would be home to eight stops along the projected rail line, stretching from Aloha Stadium to Iwilei in the last major section to be built after Middle Street.
Aki was a graduate fresh out of George Washington University when he went to work for English in 2016.
The Kamehameha Schools graduate wants to serve the community that has been home to five generations of his family.
Having grown up in public housing in a low-income household, he said he understands the struggles and challenges people face in the community.
He wants to capitalize on the planned rail stations to create more affordable housing opportunities, fix the plethora of potholes in roads that crop up in the community and tackle public safety by providing more funding to the Honolulu Police Department.
“Police beats have been understaffed, they don’t have the resources they need to do their jobs, to really address not just violent crime, but minor issues like abandoned vehicles, illegal parking,” he said.
However, Aki believes when it comes to the area of police oversight and accountability, “we still have room for improvement.”
Aki has received campaign contributions from the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers and several local workers’ unions.
Mandado, a former special education teacher at Campbell High School before joining DreamHouse Ewa Beach, jumped into the race in December.
“I always wanted to run for office, it was a passion of mine but I’m also passionate about teaching,” he said. “I just wanted to give the community a choice — (someone) who’s still a community leader but has experience outside of government to add to the race.”
Born and raised in Kalihi to Filipino immigrants, Mandado said his time as chairman of the Kalihi-Palama Neighborhood Board from 2015 to 2019 helped make him aware of the most pressing issues facing the community: development, social services and community policing.
He said many voices of the community are not being represented in city politics and he wants to change that. Pointing out that the area is home to many COFA citizens and newer immigrants, he hopes to approach the role with an equity focus.
“That experience has been super informative in helping me understand trauma that our community is consistently experiencing,” he said. “How do we help people furthest from opportunity in getting the services they need? Who’s the leader who’s going to advocate for them?”
Mandado, who has the endorsement of HSTA, supports collaborations with the Honolulu Police Department for “community-first” solutions to reducing crime, removing illegal gambling rooms and making the parks safer.
Cordero and Aki have raised roughly similar amounts in outside contributions: $77,000 for Cordero and $67,000 for Aki, in the period ending June 30.
Cordero has spent slightly more — $45,900 to Aki’s $40,500.
Mandado has raised $22,200 in contributions and spent about $3,500 in the reporting period that ended June 30.
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