Tuesday, November 24, 2015         


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Economy is top issue in packed Maui mayoral race

By Gary T. Kubota


Maui County Mayor Charmaine Tavares is seeking her second term in a primary race against 10 challengers, with several of them using the poor economy as fuel to stir anti-incumbent fires.

The top two vote-getters in Saturday's nonpartisan primary election will advance to the Nov. 2 general election.

In July, the unemployment rate was 8.2 percent in Maui County, lower than other neighbor islands and the national average of 9.7, but higher than Oahu's 5.8 percent.

Maui County voters have shown they can be quick to catch anti-incumbent fever and turn against a mayor.

The last two mayors -- James "Kimo" Apana and Alan Arakawa -- served only a single term before being sent packing by voters.

Arakawa, 58, who lost to Tavares in 2006 by less than 5 percentage points (1,749 votes), is hoping enough voters will swing his way this year.

Arakawa said the most important issue is increasing employment in the county.

"This requires us to focus in on rebuilding our local economy in partnership with local businesses," he said.

Councilman Sol Kaho'ohalahala, 59, a former state House member running for mayor for the first time, has criticized the length of time it takes for permits to be issued for tourist rentals and development projects.

Kaho'ohalahala has denied claims by those who challenged his Lanai residency qualifications when he ran for office in 2008.

Randy Piltz, 71, a retired electrical contractor and a past president of the Maui Contractors Association, said he's running because the county system is "broken."

Piltz, who ran as a lieutenant gubernatorial candidate with Frank Fasi in 1982, said the county lacks enough storage for water for developments and the development requirements for affordable housing are too stringent.

"We need new leadership to get things growing," he said.

Marc Hodges, a former police officer and co-founder of the Maui Tea (Taxed Enough Already) Party, wants to increase efficiency and reduce the number of people in county government mainly by not filling vacancies.

Hodges, 42, ran unsuccessfully as an environmentalist for mayor in 1994 and received 35 percent of the vote in a Democratic primary against Goro Hokama.

First-time candidate Chris Hart, who served as county planning director under Republican Mayor Hannibal Tavares, said he wants to improve the economy by fast-tracking building permits for small residential and commercial projects.

Hart, 69, said he'd also like to quicken the development of county capital improvement projects and further diversify the economy.

Tavares, 66, said Maui County has begun the road to recovery in very difficult economic conditions.

"I am optimistic about our future and committed to keeping our country moving forward," she said.

Tavares said she has supported transient vacation rentals and proposed expanding their activity beyond hotel districts in 2008 by allowing them to operate in business districts, resort destinations and in some areas of Lanai and Molokai.

Tavares said her administration has been moving to streamline the permit process and that as of June, permits worth more than $55 million in development were waiting to by picked up by applicants.

Other mayoral candidates include Sally Chow Hammond, 45, a massage therapist and lunch wagon operator; Harold Miller, 64, a real estate broker and manager; Jonathon Olson, 49, a certified public accountant and real estate broker; Peter Milbourn; and Ori Kopelman, 48, a management consultant.

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