A series of mailers
attacking Honolulu City Council candidate Robert “Bobby” Bunda calls for constituents of Council District 2 (Mililani Mauka to Kahaluu) to
instead vote for Dave Burlew, one of the other three candidates in the race.
But Burlew, a Kahuku farmer who has promised the state Campaign Spending Commission he won’t spend more than $1,000 this election, is denying he or his supporters sent out the mailers.
Bunda believes him, and the two issued a statement to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Tuesday condemning what they view is a smear campaign targeting them.
“For several weeks, residents of District 2 have been receiving anonymous letters that contain misrepresentations and lies intended to cause voters to question the integrity of Bobby Bunda,” the statement said.
Burlew, meanwhile, made a complaint with the Campaign Spending Commission asking that it investigate the matter.
“The reason District 2 voters are receiving these anonymous mailers is because I am perceived as the frontrunner in this race,” Bunda said. “This smear campaign is clearly an attempt to influence the outcome of the primary election by discrediting two candidates at once. I regret that a reputable candidate like Dave Burlew was a victim of the scam as well.”
Bunda and Burlew are on separate sides of the race. Bunda, who served 28 years in the Legislature, including six as Senate president, submitted a campaign financing report stating he spent $133,000 on the race as of June 30 and had $175,000 left in available cash.
Burlew, meanwhile, didn’t need to submit a report to the Campaign Spending Commission because he has declared he is spending less than $1,000 on the race.
One of the other two candidates is Heidi Tsuneyoshi, an aide to Council Chairman Ernie Martin, who has served two full terms on the Council representing District 2 and is barred from running for a third term. Tsuneyoshi has spent $87,000 and has $139,000 in available cash.
The fourth candidate is Realtor and community advocate Choon James, a familiar face at Honolulu Hale because of her advocacy on a number of issues. She is running for elected office for the first time. James has spent $3,311 so far on the election, including $2,006 of her own money, and was running a cash deficit of $2,559.
The three mailers level a series of accusations against Bunda, among them that he would be Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s “pet rubber stamp.” They also state that Bunda mismanaged the city’s $8 billion-plus rail project as “director” of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation. Bunda was a voting member on the HART board of directors from 2011 to 2015 but was never its chairman.
Another mailer states that as an appointed member of the Public Land Development Corp., Bunda was guilty of “political corruption” and “tried to sell our ceded lands to big money corporations,” but does not offer any specific examples to back up the claims. The PLDC was repealed in 2013 by Gov. Neil Abercrombie before it could develop any state properties.
One of the ads falsely lists Bunda as 79 years old, while another accurately lists him as 71.
Burlew said he started seeing the mailers soon after the June 5 filing deadline for candidates.
“It’s a bummer because we’re both trying to stand on our own merits,” Burlew said. “I’ve worked hard to be looked at as a positive member of the community, so it’s weird that someone would want to think that I’m going to mischaracterize somebody.”
Burlew said he’s received calls from constituents from Wahiawa to the North Shore. “Somebody’s spending a lot of money, and we’re not even sure who they’re targeting,” he said.
Both Tsuneyoshi and James also said they don’t condone the anonymous mailers.
Tsuneyoshi said people in the community told her about them and showed them to her. “I’ve seen it,” she said. “I can’t speak to who’s doing it or what they did, but I don’t feel that’s appropriate. … I don’t think it’s right.”
James said she’s also been made aware of the mailers and also doesn’t believe Burlew mailed them. “He’s a farmer, I’m a farmer,” she said. “We just don’t do things like that.”
Kristin Izumi-Nitao, executive director of the Campaign Spending Commission, said there’s not much she can do until she gets more information. The mailers were sent using first-class mail stamps, which aren’t traceable, rather than bulk-mailing machines, which are traceable, she said.
“This is not good campaigning,” Izumi-Nitao said.
James said a “Facebook troll” went on her campaign’s Facebook page to say that she had accused Bunda of stealing her signs. “My signs have gone missing, but I don’t believe Bunda would stoop to that kind of tactic,” she said.
Tsuneyoshi, meanwhile, said 40 of her campaign signs and banners have been stolen, while another 20 have been defaced.