Honolulu Police Commission nominee Larry Ignas sparked intense criticism this week from residents, City Council members and state lawmakers when he told the council that he doesn’t believe racial discrimination exists in Hawaii.
Now, Ignas is withdrawing from the confirmation process, Mayor Rick Blangiardi said on Hawaii News Now’s Sunrise program Friday.
“I thought the interview process that went on probably put him in his worst light,” the mayor said. “Last night I met with Larry, and he’s withdrawing his consideration, so I think we can move on off of that.”
Blangiardi defended Ignas’s character, saying that the father of six is a “highly principled man” who has lived in Hawaii for over 30 years.
“Lots of people in the community would stand up for him,” Blangiardi said. “But under the circumstances and given what the expectations are, we think it’s in the best interest, so Larry is withdrawing … ”
Civil Beat left a message for Ignas at his home but did not hear back.
The announcement comes two days after Ignas appeared before the City Council regarding his nomination. Councilwoman Esther Kiaaina asked him whether he acknowledges that racial discrimination exists in Hawaii.
“I have never seen any,” he said. “I don’t see any discrimination, no. Not here in Hawaii, not like maybe back in the mainland.”
Blangiardi’s selection had already attracted organized opposition, written testimony shows. Residents and activists took issue with his prior role as a police officer and his lack of community involvement in Hawaii. Several testifiers also expressed their belief that Ignas would not embrace police reform.
But after Ignas’s comments at the meeting, the pushback intensified.
“There is absolutely racial discrimination in Hawai’i,” the American Civil Liberties Union said on its Instagram account. “It’s not just on the continent.”
State Reps. Adrian Tam and Jeanne Kapela both put out statements calling for Ignas’s rejection or withdrawal. Council Chair Tommy Waters told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that Ignas’s responses were “insensitive, offensive and frankly, ignorant.”
On Friday morning, Kiaaina said she never intended to “trap” Ignas in an answer.
“That was a simple question,” she said. “Quite frankly I was stunned by the answer … It was revealing.”
She said she is pleased that Ignas has withdrawn.
“While we are different than the mainland, we clearly have racial discrimination going on here in Hawaii,” she said. “Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders are disproportionately represented both in our prison population as well as our homeless population. We as policymakers have the job to ensure that we can address those societal challenges.”
Commission Chair Shannon Alivado said on Friday morning on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s “Spotlight” program that Ignas’s comments were “somewhat alarming and concerning.” She said there is “no doubt” that racism exists in Hawaii.
“The conversation about racism in Honolulu is important because without recognizing our past we can’t move forward and address these shortcomings that our community does face,” she said.
On HNN, Blangiardi said finding someone to appoint to the Police Commission “has not been easy.” The volunteer commission is charged with overseeing the police department, investigating complaints from the public and hiring and firing the police chief.
Following the retirement of former chief Susan Ballard, the commission is currently taking applications for her successor.
Blangiardi’s next pick, if confirmed by the City Council, will have an important role in that hiring process and could promote the interest of the mayor and the police union in hiring a local candidate.
Blangiardi’s first nominee to the commission, former HPD officer Ben Mahi, backed out following public concerns that his longtime relationship with a current HPD lieutenant amounted to a disqualifying conflict of interest.
From the beginning, the mayor said he wanted to fill the seat with a former law enforcement officer. That intention attracted pushback from residents, local advocacy organizations and elected leaders who say what’s needed is someone from an underrepresented group. The commission is currently made up of lawyers and current and former business executives.
On Friday, the mayor indicated his vision has changed.
“Quite honestly, we’re back to the drawing board,” Blangiardi said. “I’m just going to move off somebody with police experience, and we’ll see where it takes us from here.”
Kiaaina said there is no one currently on the commission with experience in social advocacy or nonprofit leadership, nor anyone representing the Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander communities.
“It would be nice to be reflective of the communities of Hawaii,” she said.
After hearing Ignas’s comments on Wednesday, Councilwoman Radiant Cordero recorded a video for her Instagram followers stating she intended to vote no on the nominee’s confirmation. On Friday, she applauded activists’ efforts to reject Ignas.
“This open seat on the Police Commission is the last seat to be filled and I believe more than anything, we need representation on the Police Commission who can uphold what the commission is set to do,” she said in a statement to Civil Beat.
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