Businessman Keith Amemiya says that he is running for Honolulu mayor to create a better future for Oahu’s young people.
The first-time candidate spoke with Civil Beat’s politics and opinion editor Chad Blair and city watchdog reporter Christina Jedra about some of Oahu’s most pressing issues, including the pandemic, the rail project and homelessness.
“We have a lot of challenges ahead, but I know if we work together, we can fix them,” said Amemiya, who is running as a Democrat in the nonpartisan race. “We can actually create a better and stronger Oahu.
An attorney by trade, Amemiya highlighted his time leading the Hawaii High School Athletic Association during which he forged strong ties with communities across the island and interacted with government agencies.
Regarding the pandemic, Amemiya said he appreciates Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s current framework, which bases the island’s restrictions on virus case counts in a predetermined way. However, he would adjust the system to make it easier for the island to reopen, and he criticized the administration for its previously erratic pandemic response.
“Prior to this four-tier plan, we weren’t sure about why we had a Stay At Home order, or what could be open or what had to be closed, and why,” he said.
Better communication is needed, he said, and the city needs to rely on science and data for every decision it makes.
Amemiya said he still wants to finish the rail project at Ala Moana and that it’s too soon to talk about stopping short of that. Middle Street is not a “viable option,” he said.
Amemiya, who has promoted a Housing For All plan, was asked about a controversial affordable housing project that was proposed, and ultimately shot down, in Kailua.
In a previous Civil Beat interview in September, the day before the City Council was set to vote on the Kawainui project, Amemiya said he would have sided with opponents who cited traffic and parking concerns as reasons to reject the proposal.
“At this point, yes, because the opposition is so vociferous and the council has already indicated they’re going to reject the project anyway,” he said in that September interview.
However, during the Know Your Candidates forum, Amemiya took the opposite stance.
“I actually was open to that project, Christina, and what I thought I told you or should have told you was that I thought it was a good option to bring much needed affordable housing to Kailua, and what I’ve told people about that project is, in talking to Kailua residents about that project, I quickly learned that it wasn’t so one-sided,” he said.
“There was a fair segment of Kailua residents who actually supported the project, especially younger people with younger children.”
Regarding the sweeping of homeless encampments, Amemiya said it’s illegal to do unless there are housing units available for people. However, it may be necessary at times to remove people from the street, if it’s “a matter of health and safety.”
“I’m all for people having the right to walk on a sidewalk, unimpeded,” he said. “I do not want Aunti Florence to have to walk around someone or trip or get hurt walking to the bus stop so she can buy her groceries.”
Former television executive Rick Blangiardi says he is the best candidate for Honolulu mayor because he has the leadership qualities to lead the island out of its current crisis.
He referred to the election as “a referendum on leadership.”
Blangiardi, who is running as an independent in the nonpartisan race, also revealed for the first time that he voted for Donald Trump in 2016.
“I really had very high hopes, even against my judgment, that maybe what the country needed was that kind of change,” he said.
However, Blangiardi said he has been disappointed in Trump’s “leadership style, his antics, and everything else” and won’t be voting for him again. He didn’t say whether he would vote for Joe Biden but said he was impressed with Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee.
A self-described fiscal conservative, Blangiardi said he has “voted on both sides of the coin.”
Campaign finance records show Blangiardi donated money to the George W. Bush reelection campaign and the Republican Party of Hawaii in 2004 and 2005, respectively. In the past, he said he voted for Linda Lingle for governor but most recently voted for David Ige for that role.
He noted that he likes Andria Tupola, a Republican former state rep who challenged Ige for the governor’s office and lost. She was recently elected outright to the City Council to replace Councilwoman Kym Pine.
Blangiardi said he would work in a bipartisan way if elected.
The first-time candidate said he would address the pandemic with better communication and by receiving more input from the private sector in establishing restrictions that impact them.
Regarding the rail project, Blangiardi said he won’t raise property taxes – or bankrupt the city, for that matter – to pay for it. He believes the city will need “a lot more federal money” to pull it off.
On homelessness, Blangiardi said the island’s Point In Time count, the annual homeless survey that most recently counted over 4,400 people on Oahu, is an “indictment” of the government’s current response.
He said he doesn’t support Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s approach of so-called “compassionate disruption” – the mass sweeping of homeless encampments on a daily basis. His campaign’s pandemic recovery plan says he would end homeless sweeps, and he told the ACLU the same. He also walked back language he’s used throughout the campaign that homelessness requires a “tough love” response. However, he indicated enforcement is appropriate if it means getting someone into a facility that can help them.
“As long as we have a place to take them to, that’s the caveat,” he said. “I don’t want to be putting people in jail. I want to be able to take people who can’t help themselves and help them.”
Want to know more about the mayoral candidates and the race? Click here for our special report, “Honolulu Mayor 2020 Election,” including news reports, candidate Q&As, more video interviews and pre-primary coverage.
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