With the special election for City Council District 4 fast approaching, Trevor Ozawa and Tommy Waters are seeking to draw voters’ attention to each other’s perceived weaknesses.
An Ozawa campaign brochure described Waters as “a lap dog” for Mayor Kirk Caldwell. Waters sent out a brochure informing voters that he’s “mature and responsible,” suggesting Ozawa is not.
Ozawa, who held the Council seat through the end of 2018, won the November general election against Waters by 22 votes. Waters petitioned the Hawaii Supreme Court for a recount or do-over election. The court sided with him and invalidated the November election, noting that officials erred by picking up votes from the U.S. Post Office after 6 p.m. despite laws that say mail-in votes need to be in hand by 6 p.m. Because election officials said they did not have the capability to do a recount, the unprecedented special election was scheduled for April 13.
City Clerk Glen Takahashi said 63,114 vote-by-mail ballots went into the U.S. Postal Service on Thursday morning. Most registered voters in the East Honolulu district can expect the ballots to reach their mailboxes in the coming week, he said.
Voters may vote by mail by the April 13 election day or vote in person at Honolulu Hale from 8 a.m. to
4 p.m. April 1-12. They may also vote at City Hall from
7 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 13. Adult U.S. citizens who live in District 4 but are not yet registered to vote in the election can also drop in for same-day registration and then vote at Honolulu Hale on April 13.
Whoever wins the election ultimately could determine whether Caldwell will be dealing with a more hostile or less confrontational Council leadership. Ozawa was one of the mayor’s most vocal critics on the Council, while Caldwell has supported Waters’ campaign.
Halfway through a televised “Insights” forum on PBS Hawai‘i last week, Ozawa and Waters appeared to be so similar on key issues including homelessness, vacation rentals and “monster” houses, forum moderator Yunji de Nies urged the rivals to find something to distinguish themselves.
Both pointed to what they perceive to be each other’s weaknesses.
“I think temperament is probably the biggest,” Waters said. “I tell everybody, ‘We can agree, we can disagree, we can agree to disagree, but never be disagreeable.’” He added, “I’m very patient, I’m a good listener. I return calls promptly.”
In a recent flyer sent to East Honolulu voters, Waters said, “You deserve to be treated with respect and dignity by your Councilmember.” Further, it said, “Representing this district is not a game, it’s a serious business and to serve you well, your concilmember must be mature and responsible.”
Ozawa’s opponents have pointed to his confrontational nature.
In July a staff office aide to Councilman Ikaika Anderson, a supporter of Waters, lodged a complaint against Ozawa claiming that on several occasions he was verbally abusive as he questioned her sign-waving for Waters. An internal investigation by a team of Council employees concluded Ozawa violated the city’s Respectful Workplace Policy and that “your conduct was deemed unprofessional,” then-Council Chairman Ernie Martin wrote.
Ozawa told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Thursday that he and the Anderson aide are friends. As for his personality, “I’ve gotten a lot done for this district,” Ozawa said. “I’m not Mr. Giggly, I’m not that guy. I’m not that guy who smiles to your face and lies behind your back. You can see me coming. I am a serious man with a serious plan because we have serious issues to address.”
He pointed out that he works well with others and that his colleagues on the Council were prepared to elect him chairman before the Supreme Court decision put him on the sidelines.
“I’m not a rubber stamp, and I’m going to ask and have asked during the last four years, ‘How much? How come? What happened? What is going to happen?’ And I understand the issues,” Ozawa said.
Meanwhile, he said, Waters has been gaining support from labor unions.
Reports filed with state Campaign Spending Commission show that Ozawa beat Waters handily in the money race during the 2018 election cycle, outspending him by more than 2-to-1, $530,542 to $205,168.
But in the latest electioneering report reflecting cash flow since Jan. 1, Waters has as of this week spent $135,875 to Ozawa’s $105,293.
What’s more, two political action committees are spending more than $100,000 for advertising either in support of Waters or against Ozawa.
Aikea Unite Here, headed by the Local 5 union, reported $95,000 since March 15 in an effort to oppose Ozawa. Listed as contributors to the group were the New York-based Unite Here Tip state and local fund, the Iron Workers for Better
Government, Local 625
Stabilization Fund and the Bricklayers Local 1 Political Action Committee.
Meanwhile the United Public Workers AFSCME, Local 646, AFL-CIO reported $22,716 in expenses to support Waters.
No PACs have spent money on Ozawa so far this election, although Ozawa has had union and PAC support in the past, including last year.
Waters denied being Caldwell’s rubber stamp but acknowledged that the two have been allies since they began their political career as state lawmakers in 2003.
Waters said he disagrees with the mayor on several issues, including Caldwell’s proposed curbside trash pickup fee as well as his handling of “monster” houses and the controversial Ala Moana Regional Park plan.