Keith Amemiya has a new round of television commercials out this month for his Honolulu mayoral campaign and, in addition to being effective, they each close by declaring on screen that the candidate is a Democrat.
This is remarkable for two reasons.
The first is that the Honolulu mayor’s office is nonpartisan. Officials with the State Elections Office and Campaign Spending Commission said there is no statute prohibiting a nonpartisan candidate from declaring party preference, but I can’t recall a prominent candidate ever doing so.
But the second thing is that it may be very smart politics on the part of the Amemiya campaign. The businessman running his first campaign for anything has publicly identified himself with the only political party in Hawaii that matters.
Amemiya has branded himself as distinct from two opponents: Kym Pine, who served five terms as a Republican in the state House, and Rick Blangiardi, another businessman who has never run for office before and whose political leanings are not widely known.
The other top contenders in the mayoral contest are Mufi Hannemann, who lost Democratic primaries in 2010 and 2012, and Colleen Hanabusa, who lost Democratic primaries in 2014 and 2018. A Democratic voter uncertain about casting a ballot for either candidate now has a third option.
Of the three 30-second spots that are running this month, the strongest is the one titled “Addressing homelessness.” But it really should be titled “Keith’s Mom,” who is featured in the ad and who suffers from mental illness.
“I was 10 years old when she left the family,” Amemiya tells the camera. “I’ve seen the effects of mental illness up close and personal. As mayor, I will increase mental health and drug treatment for those who are out on the streets.”
Watch the ad:
Homelessness is not just a mental health issue, of course. But voters love to see candidates devoted to family. The clip of a young Amemiya will make many sigh, “Awwww.”
“Keith Gets Things Done” is a 30-second testimonial starring Dave Shoji, the former and longtime University of Hawaii Wahine volleyball coach. Shoji, a popular figure, says Amemiya is the guy to get things done, “and that’s what we need.”
Watch the ad:
Without saying so, the Shoji ad may well remind voters of the most prominent position Amemiya has held in public life: executive director of the Hawaii High School Athletics Association. That association helps Amemiya in a state crazy about high school sports, even though the job seems to offer little preparation to run a city and county of 950,000 people.
The third 30-second spot, “Keith for Change,” starts with Amemiya saying, “I’ve never held elective office before, but I think it’s a good thing. The status quo didn’t work before COVID. It’s even more clear that the status quo won’t work post-COVID.”
The ad features what is now becoming the obligatory video roll of the candidate wearing a face mask and delivering COVID relief, in this case bento meals while wearing rubber gloves.
Watch the ad:
It’s quite the stretch to declare, as the ad does, that Amemiya represents a “break” from the status quo. He is, after all, a Democrat, one with a slew of major labor endorsements including the Hawaii Government Employees Association, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the United Public Workers.
Unions usually back candidates that want to maintain the status quo, not upend it. But the ad — all three ads, actually — present Amemiya’s best bet in this campaign: that he is a fresh face for voters hungry for someone and something different.
The Amemiya campaign is advertising heavily this month and into early July on local television affiliates.
That includes about $46,000 on KGMB to get airtime on shows like “The Price Is Right,” “Entertainment Tonight” and “Jeopardy.”
About $48,000 has gone to run spots on KHON during programs like “Wheel of Fortune” and “Big Bang Theory.”
Amemiya is also buying time on KITV — at least $20,000 to run his ads when “General Hospital,” “The View” and “Ellen” are on.
In summary, based on the most recent filings with the Federal Election Commission, Amemiya is so far this year outspending his four main opponents on television commercials and purchasing airtime on a variety of programs, not just local TV news.
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