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Monday, September 22, 2014         

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Maui mayoral race tight

By Gary T. Kubota

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Fewer than 300 votes separated Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares from challenger Alan Arakawa in the September primary, and their runoff contest for the county's top job is expected to be close as well.

Arakawa has picked up the endorsements of former rivals Randy Piltz and Sol Kaho'ohalahala, who placed third and fifth, respectively, in the primary and had a combined 30 percent of the vote.

Tavares was the top vote-getter in the 11-person primary, with 26 percent; Arakawa was second with 25.1 percent.

Arakawa, a former Maui mayor who was unseated by Tavares in 2006, has focused on increasing employment and rebuilding the local economy, with unemployment at 7.9 percent in September in Maui County.

He said he wants to engage in public-private partnerships, including a program to make Maui a center for software development, and has formed a working group that includes Silicon Valley executives.

Arakawa, 59, who served as mayor from 2003 to 2007, also wants to build more reservoirs Upcountry.

Arakawa was criticized as mayor for allowing the developer of the Maui Lani subdivision to increase the elevation of new houses, obstructing the view of older homes. Critics also said he allowed illegal vacation rentals to operate, causing rents and property tax assessments to rise.

Tavares, 67, cracked down on illegal vacation rentals but also upset some small businesses that benefited from them. The operators said she hurt them at a time when the economy was in decline.

Unemployment in the county is more than a percentage point lower than the 9.3 percent of a year ago, and Tavares has argued that the economy is recovering and that she wants to complete various projects begun by her administration.

She has expanded bus service, gaining support from some senior citizens, while others question the costs of subsidizing mass transit.

Both candidates agree government operations should be trimmed.

Tavares said her administration has identified many areas to make small reductions while trying to maintain services at reasonable levels.

"We have reduced power costs at water and waste-water plants through energy conservation and efficient technologies, and closed swimming pools and landfills one day a week," she said.

Tavares said she has not supported cutting jobs because it would hurt employees, the level of services provided in the community and the local economy.

Arakawa said the first place he would start cutting is in the mayor's budget.

"It has become abundantly clear that the current administration has grown their appointed staff to the largest it has ever been under any past administration," Arakawa said.

In addition to Piltz and Kaho'ohalahala, Arakawa is endorsed by the Maui Contractors Association and Maui Chamber of Commerce.

Tavares has received the endorsement of the Maui Hotel & Lodging Association and the ILWU, which represents workers in the sugar and hotel industries.

"She's always open to us," said William Kennison, Maui County division director for the ILWU. "She's been very supportive of the sugar industry."






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