Several big-name candidates have emerged as serious contenders for Honolulu mayor with now less than a year to go until Hawaii’s 2020 primary election day.
Former Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu businessman Keith Amemiya, City Councilman Ron Menor and former Congressman Charles Djou have all said in recent days they are “seriously considering” a run at the third-floor corner office at Honolulu Hale.
They join Councilwoman Kymberly Pine, who announced her intentions in December 2017 and has been holding fundraisers, as well as perennial candidate and former state Sen. John Carroll.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s second, consecutive term ends on Jan. 2, 2021, and he is barred from running for a third straight term.
Hanabusa filed a report Aug. 11 with the state Campaign Spending Commission, listing her intent to run for the mayor’s office. The report lists Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi as her chairwoman.
On Thursday, through Hanabusa 2020 communications officer Janet Scheffer, Hanabusa issued a statement that did not mention the word mayor but otherwise sounded very much like a candidate. She criticized the state of affairs in city government and the semi-autonomous Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation.
“As the next group of federal subpoenas go out to the employees of HART, I believe, like many of you, it’s very sad to see this type of mismanagement and corruption at the highest levels of government in Hawaii,” said Hanabusa, who herself was appointed by Caldwell to the HART board in June 2015. She served as the board’s chairwoman from April-October 2016, when she resigned to run for Congress.
In August 2016, during her tenure as chairwoman, embattled HART CEO Dan Grabauskas resigned.
“The rail and homelessness are out of control, and I cannot sit by and do nothing as I watch the Hawaii I love, and our people, lose all trust and hope,” Hanabusa’s statement said. “I know in my heart that we can turn this around with hard work and leadership.”
On Friday, Kobayashi held a press conference to voice her support for Hanabusa as mayor. Hanabusa, an attorney, was unavailable because she was working on a case, Scheffer said.
Amemiya, amid questions about a possible candidacy, on Thursday issued his own statement.
“Although I’ve never run for political office before, I’ve been approached and encouraged by various people, community and business leaders to run for mayor of the City & County of Honolulu,” said Amemiya, a senior vice president with Island Holdings, parent company of Island Insurance.
Amemiya is best known as the former executive director of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association. He is the son of former state Attorney General Ron Amemiya, the cousin of city Managing Director Roy Amemiya and was raised by the family of prominent Honolulu attorney Bert T. Kobayashi Jr.
“I’m currently discussing my options with family and friends, and a decision about the race will be forthcoming shortly,” Amemiya’s statement said.
Like Hanabusa, Amemiya was unavailable for additional comment.
In text messages Friday, Menor and Djou confirmed their interest in the contest.
“I have been encouraged by a broad cross section of community leaders to run for mayor because they believe I have the commitment and experience to provide effective leadership for the city in this important position,” Menor said. “Therefore, I am seriously considering seeking the office of mayor given my strong desire to continue my involvement in public service.”
Menor said he will make a decision “well before the end of the year.”
He has served in both the Legislature and Council for more than three decades. The son of the late Hawaii Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Menor, he was first elected to the state House in 1982.
Djou said that he should be placed in the “seriously considering” category. Djou lost to Caldwell in the head-to-head second special election in November 2016 by a 52% to 48% margin despite being outspent by the incumbent by 3-to-1.
“Yes, I’m giving serious thought to running for mayor, but not anywhere near ready to make a final decision,” Djou said.
In Honolulu, city elections are nonpartisan. Instead , the Honolulu City Charter says a person can win elective office outright by winning the August special election by more than 50% of actual votes cast, not counting blank or spoiled ballots. If that doesn’t happen, the two top vote-getters advance to a second special election.
In the August 2016 first special election, held in conjunction with the Hawaii primary election, Caldwell beat Djou by 1,530 votes. Caldwell grabbed 74,062 votes, 44.6 percent of the votes cast, while Djou received 72,532 votes, or 43.7 percent.
Besides Congress, Djou has served in both the Legislature and Council. He was first elected to the state House in 2000. A lifelong Republican, Djou resigned in March 2018 because of the leadership of the party by President Donald Trump.
Former Gov. Ben Cayetano told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser he won’t be running in the mayor’s race. His wife, businesswoman Vicky Cayetano, said she’s not ruled out the possibility of running although she declined to put herself in the “seriously considering” category.
Former Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who’s also rumored to considering a run, could not be reached for comment.
Others rumored to be interested include former Gov. Neil Abercrombie and former Attorney General and Lt. Gov. Doug Chin. Neither could be reached for comment.
The deadline for candidates to file nomination papers for the 2020 mayor’s race is June 2. The first day they can file is Feb. 3. Primary election day is Aug. 8.
The 2020 election year will be the first in Hawaii that will have mail-in-only ballots.