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Incumbent Kenoi squeaks past Kim for Hawaii isle mayor

By Leila Fujimori

LAST UPDATED: 1:36 a.m. HST, Nov 7, 2012

Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi won re-election by a hair Tuesday, defeating retired two-term Mayor Harry Kim in a close race.

Despite the incumbent having spent $600,000 to Kim’s $20,000, Kenoi won by a mere 1,457 votes.

The final tally was 51.2 percent for Kenoi to 48.8 percent for Kim.

The race had all the elements of a surprising and compelling story: a 43-year-old incumbent challenged by a 73-year-old former two-term mayor who had given Kenoi his start in government and was also his football coach from childhood through high school.

After third-place contender County Council Chairman Domi­nic Yagong was ousted in the primary, Kenoi and Kim turned up the heat against one another.

Kim, who trailed Kenoi by 8 percentage points in the primary, closed that gap earlier Tuesday night. With 28 of 43 precincts reporting, the two were in a virtual dead heat, just 119 votes apart.

After his loss Tuesday, Kim attributed garnering a larger number of votes in the general to the hard work of volunteers.

“Some of them spent their own resources, their time and commitment,” he said. “It’s an unbelievable phenomenon of volunteers.”

They made more than 1,000 signs and “organized themselves,” he said. “I did not have a campaign organization.”

His entry into the race was a response to people asking him to run.

“I did not care to get back in, but after listening to them, I thought it was the right thing for me to do,” Kim said.

He does not regret limiting donations to $10 or less. “I just believed people should be elected for who they are and by their work.”

“Money is not that big a factor in regards to winning or losing an election for some races. … I still believe money should not be the factor in determining a race.”

Kim served as mayor from 2000 to 2008 and hired Kala­pana-born Kenoi, then a Hono­lulu public defender, as one of his executive assistants in 2001.

Kim was prevented by term limits from running for a third term in 2008.

Still remembered as the voice of calm in the face of many Hawaii island natural disasters, the county’s former Civil Defense administrator was considered the candidate of integrity and honesty, one political analyst said.

Kenoi held what appeared to be a dominant advantage over Kim with the endorsements from public workers unions and chambers of commerce.

Perhaps Kenoi’s biggest boost came with the support of U.S. Sen. Daniel Ino­uye, for whom he interned 20 years ago. Ino­uye made radio ads saying he would vote for Kenoi if he could.

Kenoi has denied speculation he may be seeking higher office and will leave the job of mayor before his term ends.

Kim was endorsed by the Sierra Club Hawaii Chapter. Yagong, who pulled in 19 percent of the vote in the primary, threw his support to Kim.

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