With Honolulu Councilwoman Heidi Tsuneyoshi leaving office to run for governor, five candidates have lined up to replace her. And they all have something in common: none is a politician. 

The first-time candidates include farmer and North Shore Neighborhood Board Vice-Chair Racquel Achiu, former city prosecutor Matt Weyer, big wave surfer Makuakai Rothman, Laie Community Association member Lupe Funaki and Chad Tsuneyoshi, a political consultant, a businessman and the current councilwoman’s ex-husband.

The challenge for the candidates will be to prove they can represent the concerns and interests of a diverse array of neighborhoods on the North Shore.

Pupukea 3 Tables North Shore Aerial.
Honolulu Council District 2 includes Pupukea and Sunset Beach and extends east to Laie and south to Waikele. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2018

District 2 is, by far, the largest City Council district by land area and comprises communities like Haleiwa, Pupukea, Sunset Beach, Kahuku, Laie and Punaluu. 

Thanks to redistricting last year, it also includes portions of central Oahu, such as Waikele, Royal Kunia and Wahiawa – areas that used to be part of District 9, currently represented by Councilman Augie Tulba. 

The district’s communities include farmers, the surfing hub of the North Shore, the Mormon community of Laie and commercial interests like the Turtle Bay Resort.

And the area is grappling with many pressing issues, including worries about ocean safety, overtourism, land use and shoreline loss. Underscoring those concerns, a home recently collapsed into the ocean. 

The candidates will face each other in the Aug. 13 primary and need to earn 50% of the vote plus one in order to win outright. If no candidate reaches that threshold, the top two candidates in those races face a runoff in the Nov. 8 general election.

Civil Beat interviewed each of the candidates about their backgrounds and legislative priorities, with the exception of Rothman who declined to be interviewed for this story. On PBS Insights on Thursday, Rothman said his priorities include ocean safety, city staffing and restoring public trust in law enforcement. 

Racquel Achiu

In an interview at the Waialua farm she shares with her husband, Achiu said she has seen the North Shore change in her lifetime, and not for the better. Growing up in a surf house in Haleiwa, she felt a sense of community. Today, she said visitors are clogging up roads and attractions, and investors are trying to scoop up even more land to cater to outsiders. 

If elected, Achiu, a Native Hawaiian mother of two, said she would take steps to balance the scales, put local residents first and “restore the Aloha spirit.” 

“A division has been made between the local resident and the tourism industry, and the locals are tired. People on the North Shore are over it. I don’t think we could scream that any louder.”

Achiu has several solutions in mind. For instance, kupuna on a fixed income should not be priced out of their homes, she said. To that end, she would propose that older constituents pay the tax rate that was in place when they purchased their house. And she said Native Hawaiians should not have to pay any property taxes.

“I don’t believe Native Hawaiians should be paying a property tax on land that was originally theirs to begin with,” she said. 

To make up the lost tax revenue, Achiu feels the county should tax nonresidents at a higher rate.

“You got a lot of investors here, a lot of commercial activity here,” she said. “They can pay.”

Racquel Achiu, candidate for Honolulu City Council District 2
Racquel Achiu has been a North Shore Neighborhood Board member for years. Christina Jedra/Civil Beat 2022

If it’s possible, Achiu said she would support prohibiting nonresidents from buying land in Hawaii at all, such as the new law passed in New Zealand. In Achiu’s view, anyone buying land in Hawaii should have lived in the islands for at least 20 years.

Achiu is very passionate about the preservation of agricultural lands and keeping owners honest about their uses. 

“Growth needs to involve community input, and it needs to be reasonable,” she said. “The quality of life here is being diluted. It doesn’t provide a sustainable future.” 

Achiu’s other priorities include bringing the city’s paper-based bureaucracy into the digital era, making the Department of Planning and Permitting more accountable and bolstering ocean safety.

The city also needs to tackle corruption, Achiu said. She would like to see the establishment of community-led reform committees to provide oversight and feedback to city agencies like the Honolulu Police Department and DPP. 

As for herself, Achiu said she isn’t taking any money from special interests. 

“Money is great, but don’t tell me they’re not expecting anything later on,” she said. “I ain’t gonna be bought.” 

Matt Weyer

For Weyer, Honolulu’s high cost of living is a major reason he’s running. The self-proclaimed policy wonk currently works for Honolulu’s Department of Community Services and says he wants to help promote affordable housing. 

Matt Weyer, candidate for Honolulu City Council District 2
Matt Weyer is Council Chair Tommy Waters’ former policy and fiscal director. Christina Jedra/Civil Beat 2022

“The path we are on is not sustainable,” he said. “It’s solvable.” 

He said he would start with ensuring that the Department of Planning and Permitting is fully staffed and that personnel are making a wage that is adequate enough to prevent turnover. The department should be ensuring potential long-term housing isn’t being wasted on short-term vacation rentals, according to Weyer. 

The city can also invest in infrastructure so that developers can maximize density in Honolulu’s urban core, he said. 

Regarding homelessness, Weyer said he would support more shelters and behavior health stabilization services. 

Weyer, who grew up in Waikele, said the city needs to tackle other issues too, including sidewalks and bridges in disrepair, community policing and climate resilience. 

The former domestic violence prosecutor is a former aide to Council Chairman Tommy Waters and has the backing of several local unions, including the Hawaii State Teachers Association, the AFL-CIO, the Hawaii Government Employees Association, Local 5, and the Hawaii Masons Union. 

In his third term as a member of the Waipahu Neighborhood Board, Weyer said he loves working on local issues. 

“The city really is the one that is directly in touch with the community,” he said. 

If elected, Weyer said community engagement would be central to his work. 

“As a community, we have to be looking out for the entirety of the community, particularly the most vulnerable amongst us,” he said. 

Chad Tsuneyoshi

Tsuneyoshi, a Wahiawa resident and father of two, has worn a lot of hats over the years. 

He has worked in the limo and electric car businesses and as a lobbyist for the electrical workers union. He’s been a mixed martial arts promoter; a political consultant working on the campaigns of politicians like Kirk Caldwell, Colleen Habanbusa and Trevor Ozawa; and an adviser and campaign treasurer to former North Shore Councilman Ernie Martin. 

He’s also made some mistakes. In 1999, Tsuneyoshi was charged participating in an international cocaine trafficking scheme, federal court records show. Tsuneyoshi was found guilty of conspiracy to possess and distribute over 150 kilograms of the drug between 1990 and 1997, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported at the time. 

In that time period, when Tsuneyoshi was in his 20s, he also acted so erratically and threateningly that two family members filed restraining orders against him, state court records show. 

Chad Tsuneyoshi, candidate for Honolulu City Council District 2
Chad Tsuneyoshi runs Pacific Marketing & Consulting. Christina Jedra/Civil Beat 2022

It’s not a topic Tsuneyoshi likes to talk about. However, in an interview, Tsuneyoshi said his involvement in the drug conspiracy was brief and that he left criminality behind and joined the Army before he was caught. 

“It was a one-time mistake,” he said. “I was at the wrong place at the wrong time.” 

After he was sentenced to five years in prison, he said he calculated approximately what it cost taxpayers to incarcerate him, and he vowed to pay it back to society. And he says he’s done that. 

Flipping through a binder of his accomplishments, Tsuneyoshi pointed to commendations from the Army and numerous community organizations. And there was news coverage of Rides for Angels, a program in which Tsuneyoshi and his brother gave limo rides to underprivileged children. 

Today, Tsuneyoshi says he’s a mental health counselor who mentors youth in his community. 

As someone who has run various businesses, Tsuneyoshi said he has a perspective that would be valuable on the City Council. 

“We can’t just print money,” he said. “We businesspeople are made to solve problems.”

If elected, he would work to improve morale and community engagement at HPD, and improve infrastructure to facilitate the development of affordable housing. 

He would also probe the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation for answers about cost overruns. The rail project is fundamentally flawed, he said.

“What is the benefit of all these people getting the project done on time?” he asked. “If they make a mistake, they make more money because the project exists longer.”

“Not one person has ever been held accountable for mismanagement, faulty plans, change orders – not one person. We have to hold them accountable,” he said.

Chad and Heidi Tsuneyoshi’s divorce was finalized earlier this year, but the candidate says they maintain a positive relationship and that he admires her work on the council throughout the last four years. 

“I have big shoes to fill,” he said.  

Lupe Funaki

Funaki, born and raised in Laie, is a community association member and an international student adviser at Brigham Young University. 

But most importantly to her, she is a single mother of 11 children, ages 6 to 19. 

“The value of everything that I do always comes back home – what it might teach them, what I hope it’ll inspire them to have courage to do as they get older,” Funaki said. “Everything is about the team.” 

2022 Honolulu City Council candidate Lupe Funaki from Laie.
2022 Honolulu City Council candidate Lupe Funaki from Laie. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Also central to her identity is her faith in the Mormon Church, also known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The daughter of Tongan parents who were some of the first dancers at the Polynesian Cultural Center, Funaki is a former Miss Keiki Hula and Punahou School graduate. She later studied at BYU in Hawaii and Utah to earn an English degree, as well as a master’s degree in public administration and a law degree, although she’s never practiced law. 

Instead, she’s had a variety of professional experiences, including working for BYU in Provo, Utah, teaching music in Tonga and working as a personal assistant for Tonga’s minister for infrastructure and tourism.

In Hawaii, Funaki said she was always interested in public service and supported the political campaigns of former Republican state representatives Richard Fale and Feki Pouha. For herself though, she realized she wanted to make an impact on the local level. 

Funaki said she is most concerned about the cost of housing driving locals away from the islands, the disruptive flooding that occurs during heavy rains, the proliferation of short-term rentals on the island and the use of agricultural lands for development. 

Funaki, whose father was a farmer, said she understands the value of preserving Hawaii’s land. 

“There is a certain attitude and way of life that comes when you feel connected to the land, the way you treat people, the way you think, the way you think about your environment,” she said. 

Funaki readily admits she doesn’t have all the answers or policy solutions to the island’s problems. Her priority would be to defend the interest of the people who live in her district. 

“My approach, without having had the experience, would be to come in and learn,” she said. 

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