One of Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s appointments to the Hawaii Community Development Authority is an engineer whose family and business contacts were top donors to Abercrombie’s campaign.
Abercrombie chose Lois Mitsunaga, a structural engineer and corporate treasurer for Mitsunaga & Associates, for the post last year. The Senate unanimously confirmed her earlier in the legislative session.
Mitsunaga was a volunteer for the Abercrombie campaign who did outreach among women and young voters. She, her father — prominent Democratic fundraiser Dennis Mitsunaga — and others associated with the construction firm donated more than $55,000 to the campaign. Mitsunaga & Associates was also the largest single donor to Abercrombie’s inauguration festivities, contributing $30,000.
The Mitsunagas have reserved Washington Place for Lois Mitsunaga’s wedding reception in April.
The authority oversees redevelopment in Kakaako, which has become among Abercrombie’s priorities.
Abercrombie described Lois Mitsunaga, who lives in Kakaako, as "bright, committed, a tremendous organizer." The governor said he is not concerned about the perception of appointing someone with her political and construction ties to a state development agency.
"This is one of these circumstances I’m delighted with the fact that somebody that supports me as strongly as that family does also is able to contribute not just in dollar terms, but contribute in terms of their talent and commitment," he said.
Anthony Ching, HCDA’s executive director, supported Mitsunaga’s nomination. He said her experience as a structural engineer brings expertise to the authority, which is considering a proposal to build what would be the tallest high-rise in Hawaii. "It’s good to have a cross section of expertise," he said, adding that others on the authority have real estate, financial and legal backgrounds.
Mitsunaga said she applied for the post through the governor’s transition website. "I signed up as a concerned resident of the Kakaako area," she said in an email. "I also felt that my expertise as a structural engineer could be of some value to the HCDA board."
Abercrombie had said during his campaign that his appointees would be based on merit, not politics or personal familiarity. He also said he wanted fresh and diverse new leaders. "Everybody stands on their own merits; that’s the way I look at it in the end," he said Thursday. "And if there was an observation or an accusation or something that someone wasn’t capable of doing the job, wasn’t doing the job or whatever, well, then you have to deal with that.
"But I’m not concerned about it at all."