The third time was the charm for Tommy Waters, who captured the Honolulu City Council’s East Honolulu seat tonight after losing two close head-to-head battles with Trevor Ozawa in November and 2014.
Waters finished 1,004 votes ahead of Ozawa, 17,491 to 16,487.
The Waters victory capped an extended 2018 contest for the District 4 (Hawaii Kai to Ala Moana) seat that saw Ozawa win in November by a narrow 22 votes only to have the results invalidated by the Hawaii Supreme Court. The unprecedented move triggered this year’s do-over special election.
Ballots were mailed out March 21 to the more than 69,000 district voters, who had the option of voting in person at Honolulu Hale through 6 p.m. today. By Friday, 32,274 mail-in ballots had been received while 486 people had cast ballots in person.
Ozawa spent far more than Waters during the 2018 campaign, but Waters turned the tables for the special election. The latter’s efforts were bolstered by $163,000 in ad campaigns by two labor-related political action committees that reminded voters of Ozawa’s frequently caustic personality.
The victory by Waters, an ally of Mayor Kirk Caldwell since the two met as rookie state representatives in 2003, likely will result in smoother relations between the Council leadership and the mayor during his final two years in office.
Ozawa was among Caldwell’s staunchest critics since being elected in 2014 and was part of a five-member majority that was more hostile toward the mayor’s policies.
The incumbent characterized himself as an independent thinker and check on the mayor while portraying Waters as Caldwell’s lapdog. Waters countered that he would be more cordial while maintaining the role of watchdog.
Following Ozawa’s razor-thin win in November, Waters and a group of 39 East Honolulu voters filed separate challenges and the Hawaii Supreme Court invalidated the results after determining that elections officials violated state rules by collecting mail-in ballot envelopes after 6 p.m.
Election officials were forced to hold a runoff between the two candidates after explaining they could not separate out the votes collected after the 6 p.m. deadline.
The Ozawa-Waters runoff will also go down as among the most expensive and closely watched elections ever held outside of the normal primary-general election cycle.
Waters’s campaign had spent $230,365 as of March 31, not including the union PAC money, while Ozawa had spent $191,588, according to reports filed Wednesday with the state Campaign Spending Commission.
During the 2018 election cycle, Ozawa spent $530,542 through Nov. 6 while Waters spent $205,168 during the same period.
City Clerk Glen Takahashi estimated the cost of the special election at $250,000. It was conducted solely by the city Elections Division.
Supporters of both candidates who gathered to wait for the vote tally voiced a mixture of anxiety, relief and an appreciation for their respective candidate.
At Ozawa’s headquarters at Roy’s Hawaii Kai, Harry Tanaka said he believes the incumbent genuinely focuses on the interests of constituents.
“He’s representing the voice of our community,” the retired airline worker and researcher said. “I feel that way 120%. Otherwise, I wouldn’t support him.”
Lorna Woo, who has volunteered to help Waters in each of his three Council contests, said, “It was pretty arduous. We went door to door for him. It was right, you know? We canvassed for him, we did Wilhelmina (Rise), Sierra Drive … Diamond Head, stuff like that.”
Woo said those meeting Waters for the first time were receptive. “He has a really good ability to connect to people,” she said.
Star-Advertiser reporters Mark Ladao and Rob Perez contributed to this report.