The City and County of Honolulu has only had two prosecuting attorneys over the past 32 years — Keith Kaneshiro and Peter Carlisle, both strong law-and-order types.
The 2020 election to replace Kaneshiro — who is on paid leave pending the outcome of a federal investigation related to the Kealoha conspiracy and corruption trial — has drawn seven candidates.
But how best to rise above the pack?
Public defender Jacquie Esser is the first of the field to run a television commercial this election season, and it places racial injustice at the center of her campaign.
Watch the ad:
The 30-second “Jacquie Esser for Honolulu Prosecutor” opens with the candidate leaving District Court on Alakea Street and ends with her entering Circuit Court on Punchbowl Street.
In between, the screen is filled with images of police officers and homeless people in downtown Honolulu and the Black Lives Matter protest at the State Capitol last month.
As demonstrators hold signs reading “I Can’t Breathe” and “Justice for George F.”, Esser says, “Racial injustice fractures families and communities, but this election is our moment to stand up for change, demand equal rights, invest in our communities and address police misconduct.”
Look closely and you will also see sign-wavers in support of the YWCA’s Fernhurst branch in Makiki, the only work furlough program available to female inmates in the state.
“Gov. Ige, Step Up for Women,” reads one sign.
It’s a straightforward political ad that links Esser’s candidacy to the movement that is sweeping much of the country: racism in the criminal justice system.
For several thousand dollars, Esser bought airtime on KGMB beginning on June 26 and running through Sunday on shows like “Sunrise,” the 10 p.m. news and “This Is Now” on sister station KHNL.
The spot ran for several days in late June, too, on KITV during programs such as “Good Morning America” and the midday, 5 and 10 p.m. news.
It’s a smart move for the Esser campaign to try to define the candidate early in the public mind ahead of the Aug. 8 primary.
A candidate for prosecutor needs 50% of the vote plus one to win outright or faces a runoff in November with the second-place finisher.
Given that former judge Steve Alm, who held a double-digit lead in a Civil Beat poll in May and has raised the most money with support from well-known backers, is arguably the frontrunner, Esser is hoping that she can edge out the other candidates — former deputy prosecutor turned defense attorney Megan Kau, Acting Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Dwight Nadamoto, former deputy prosecuting attorney Robert “RJ” Brown, defense attorney Tae Kim and attorney Anosh Yaqoob.
The poll revealed that most voters surveyed knew little about most of the candidates. For those who watch TV, they now know a little more about Jacquie Esser.
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