The same group that helped Kirk Caldwell edge Ben Cayetano in the race for Honolulu mayor eight years ago is now spending money to elect Rick Blangiardi.
Be Change Now, a super PAC run by the Hawaii Carpenters Market Recovery Program Fund, bought about $65,000 of airtime during the last week of September to broadcast a 30-second political advertisement titled “Leader.”
Using audio and video from a recent PBS Hawaii debate, the ad features Blangiardi — the former longtime local TV executive — explaining why he is the best candidate for the job.
“I am a leader,” he says. “I know how to lead. What I bring to this job is someone who can bring a team and a heart to do all the right things by the people of this state.”
A screenshot from Be Change Now’s September ad backing Rick Blangiardi. The super PAC is not allowed to coordinate with the candidate.
The clip makes no mention of Blangiardi’s opponent, former businessman and nonprofit executive Keith Amemiya. In the last frame in small lettering the ad explains that it is paid for by Be Change Now “without the approval and authority of the candidate.”
It also says the top contributor to this noncandidate committee is the Hawaii Carpenters Market Recovery Program Fund.
The Hawaii Regional Council of Carpenters labor union has been a major player in recent Hawaii campaigns, most notoriously in 2012. That’s when the PAC — then called Pacific Resource Partnership, or PRP — spent more than $3 million to support Caldwell, who was in a tough race against Cayetano, the former governor who ran on an anti-rail platform.
In 2014, PRP publicly apologized to Cayetano for its attack ads in order to settle a libel and slander lawsuit. The super PAC also donated $125,000 total to the University of Hawaii medical school and to the Hawaiian Humane Society.
In 2018 the super PAC was rechristened All Hawaii Stand Together. That name was soon dropped when singer-songwriter Liko Martin, who wrote the popular tune “All Hawaii Stand Together,” complained.
The super PAC was then renamed Be Change Now, and it spent about $3 million to support Colleen Hanabusa in her unsuccessful primary challenge of Gov. David Ige that year and former state Sen. Josh Green in his successful bid to become lieutenant governor.
Hanabusa, the former U.S. congresswoman who finished third to Blangiardi and Amemiya last month in the primary, is now backing Blangiardi.
And while the carpenters union has made the Honolulu rail project a priority, both Blangiardi and Amemiya support rail. Amemiya has thus far garnered the support of the lion’s share of local unions.
In a press release Wednesday announcing the ad buy, Lee Tokuhara, Be Change Now’s communications director, said nothing about rail.
“Rick’s long record of success and bold ideas for change make him the right choice for this pivotal moment for Honolulu,” Tokuhara said in the press release, specifically mentioning the pandemic and resulting recession.
The 30-second ad does not mention rail, either. But it shows images that suggest a Honolulu on the rebound, such as what appears to be a hotel guest opening a curtain to see the ocean off Waikiki and restaurant workers preparing their business to reopen. Face masks are featured prominently.
Watch the ad:
The ad is airing through Monday on KGMB (local news, “The Young and the Restless,” “Entertainment Tonight”), KHNL and KFVE (“Today,” “Late Night with Seth Meyers”), KHON (“Wheel of Fortune,” “Dr. Phil,” “Inside Edition”) and KITV (“The View, “Good Morning America”).
Blangiardi was president and general manager of Hawaii News Now (KGMB and KHNL) before stepping down in January. HNN is also Civil Beat’s media partner.
Tokuhara said in an email to me Thursday that Be Change Now plans for its new ad “to be the first step in our efforts to emphasize Rick’s long record of successful leadership and decades of community service so working families can hear and see how he’s the right mayor for this challenging time.”
To that end, the super PAC seems to have the budget to campaign more for Blangiardi. It reported a surplus of $5.2 million as of Aug. 8, the final campaign spending report for the primary.
The “Leader” ad, which began airing Wednesday, comes as the Amemiya campaign has gone on the attack in two recent TV spots. One of the ads compares Blangiardi unfavorably to President Trump.
Mail-in ballots to voters in the City and County of Honolulu are expected to be mailed out as early as Oct. 5.
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