In the Honolulu City Council race to represent downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods, Tyler Dos Santos-Tam is promising new leadership while Traci Toguchi is pledging to continue the work she’s already doing as an aide to incumbent Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga. 

At a debate on Monday hosted by the Kokua Council, a kupuna advocacy organization, the candidates made their case to voters. 

Dos-Santos Tam pitched himself as a problem solver. 

“We need leaders who are going to take action,” he said. “And that’s exactly what I’m going to do as a council member, whether it’s on homelessness, whether it’s on crime – which is probably the top issue that I hear about from neighbors – or affordable housing and the cost of living.” 

Toguchi stressed her institutional knowledge and experience in constituent services. 

“I believe that my strength is obviously working in this District 6 office and having been encouraged by the constituents themselves to run for the seat,” she said. “The issues that I helped to resolve are those that are long-standing, complex issues.”

Tyler Dos Santos-Tam and Traci Toguchi are running for Honolulu City Council, District 6
Tyler Dos Santos-Tam and Traci Toguchi are running for Honolulu City Council, District 6. Kokua Council/2022

The candidates will appear on general election ballots, which voters will start to receive by mail in mid-October. The winner of the nonpartisan race will represent an area including Kakaako, downtown Honolulu, Chinatown, Punchbowl, Papakolea, Pauoa Valley, Nuuanu, Iwilei, Liliha, Alewa Heights and Kalihi. 

Dos-Santos Tam is making his second attempt to represent District 6 after losing to Fukunaga in 2018. Born and raised in Alewa Heights, Dos-Santos Tam has experience as a Liliha Neighborhood Board member, a community activist against monster homes and a construction industry lobbyist. 

A graduate of Punahou School and Yale University, he is also the former chair of Hawaii’s Democratic Party. 

Oahu council districts with 2022 primary races.
There are four Honolulu City Council races on the general election ballot this year. 

A first-time political candidate, Toguchi is known more as a former beauty queen and performer than a politician. The former Miss Hawaii appeared in “Karate Kid 2” and the Broadway production of “Miss Saigon.” 

But Toguchi, who grew up in Nuuanu, has also worked as a paralegal and as a public relations official for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation. 

For the last two years, she has served as Fukunaga’s legislative aide – a position from which others have launched political careers. Current council members Heidi Tsuneyoshi and Radiant Cordero were both elected after having worked for their predecessors.

Fukunaga is term-limited on the council and is running for state Senate. 

While Toguchi touted her council credentials, she also admitted that she doesn’t have all the answers. In response to several questions, she punted to the Hawaii Legislature saying that the topic was in the state’s jurisdiction or said she would consult with experts to determine the right course of action. 

“I don’t want to say specifically what my recommendations are for that until I know more,” she said Monday in response to a question about property tax reform.

Both candidates promised to prioritize addressing crime, housing and traffic safety. 

To watch the full debate, see below: 

To increase the amount of affordable housing, Dos Santos-Tam said he would support more tax credits for developers and would work to increase density in apartment districts like Waikiki. He also spoke about the importance of building transit-oriented development around the rail line.   

Toguchi said she would work with the city’s Department of Community Services, which offers rental assistance. 

“That is their function, to be able help with housing and human services sectors,” she said. “I would continue to try to help through that department.” 

One neighborhood in District 6 that has suffered more than most is Chinatown. At once a bustling center for arts, culture and local businesses, including popular restaurants, it also has serious problems. Property owners have complained for years about crime, pointing to an unsheltered homeless population that struggles with mental illness and substance abuse.

Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s administration has made an effort to improve the neighborhood, but it has been the scene of several high-profile crimes recently that continue to cause concern. 

Asked about this on Monday, Toguchi said the answer is policing. Filling the vacancies in a department where some 30% of positions are unfilled will go a long way, she said. And finding ways of providing permanent housing and mental health support would help, she said, although she didn’t offer specifics.

Dos Santos-Tam said he’s mad that so much attention is paid to improving Waikiki, where Blangiardi and city prosecutor Steve Alm just launched a cleanup campaign

“We do need some level of investment in these other communities,” he said. 

The candidates seem to differ somewhat on their views of the Honolulu Police Department, which was rocked by a corruption scandal that landed the former chief and several officers in prison in 2019. HPD has also been under scrutiny in recent years for its dismal crime-solving stats and the number of people officers kill in the course of their duties.

In her Civil Beat election questionnaire, Toguchi said she is “well satisfied with and extremely grateful for HPD” and only wants to beef up the number of officers.

In his Q&A, Dos Santos-Tam acknowledged a need for more oversight of police while cautioning against micromanagement. 

A pile of trash sits near a crosswalk and near a "no dumping" sign in Chinatown.
Chinatown has long struggled with litter, crime and homelessness. Lauren Teruya/Civil Beat/2021

On Monday, Dos Santos-Tam expressed a similarly nuanced view of cash bail reform, which became a hot topic earlier this year. 

The Legislature passed a bill, which was aimed at promoting fairness in a system that often imprisons the poor before trial while letting wealthier criminal suspects out. The bill would require the release, without bail, of people accused of certain nonviolent offenses.  

However, it was vetoed by Gov. David Ige after a community uproar and opposition from the four county mayors and prosecutors who said the release of some offenders could jeopardize public safety.

Toguchi said she opposed the bill. Dos Santos-Tam expressed openness to the goals of the measure while acknowledging many residents didn’t want it. 

“I think it’s very clear, you know, the community opposed it,” he said. “I’m personally, you know, I understand that our bail system is unfair in a lot of ways, especially to the very poor. So I get that.” 

When it comes to corruption in city government, Toguchi and Dos Santos-Tam see things differently. 

Toguchi has said she doesn’t believe change is needed, other than perhaps more ethics training. 

“While I do not readily see changes necessary at this time, I am looking at current legislation,” she said in her Civil Beat questionnaire. 

Dos Santos-Tam has been a critic of the Department of Planning and Permitting, where five employees were criminally charged for bribery last year. Three of them have pleaded guilty so far, along with a local architect who paid bribes for years. 

“This is clearly unacceptable,” he said at Monday’s debate.

He has advocated for a proactive approach to preventing preferential treatment, including streamlining internal processes so they are less vulnerable to the “whims of bad actors.” He also suggested making procurement more transparent so that unscrupulous deals would be easier to spot. 

“As I go door to door, I hear that people are hungry for a leader who’s going to take action,” he said. “They want things to get done.”

Dos Santos-Tam won the primary election with a comfortable lead, 28% to Toguchi’s 17%. 

However, the Nov. 8 general election could swing either way. The voters who chose the other primary candidates, like Ikaika Hussey and Nalani Jenkins, and those who chose not to vote in the council race at all are up for grabs – a total of over 12,000 voters. Dos Santos-Tam received about 6,500 votes in the Aug. 13 primary, and Toguchi got just under 4,000. 

When it comes to money and political connections though, Dos-Santos Tam has the upper hand with nearly $164,000 in contributions, campaign finance records show. Toguchi has raised far less, with $19,000 collected throughout the election. She said on Monday that she hesitated to run because she didn’t want to ask people for money.

Dos-Santos Tam’s biggest campaign donors include unions representing carpenters, painters and laborers. He also has the backing of prominent and powerful community members including state Sen. Stanley Chang, lobbyist Kekoa McLellan, members of the Kobayashi development empire, and former Mayor Kirk Caldwell. 

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