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Honolulu mayoral candidates talk post-coronavirus sustainability

  • DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                In February, Colleen Hanabusa announced her candidacy for Honolulu mayor and opened her campaign headquarters in Kalihi.

    DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    In February, Colleen Hanabusa announced her candidacy for Honolulu mayor and opened her campaign headquarters in Kalihi.

Half a dozen candidates for Honolulu mayor have promised to make a sustainable and livable Hawaii, but Friday at a forum gave only broad, general statements without going too deep into details on key questions.

The Just Transition Hawaii Coalition, an organization dedicated to local environmental, economic and social issues and a quest for a sustainable planet, hosted the forum over Zoom and Facebook, where the video is still available.

Councilwoman Kym Pine, the only current elected city official in the race, said that for Oahu and the state to emerge successfully from the COVID-19 pandemic, there needs to be a return to a balanced society, one that upholds the Native Hawaiian principle of taking care of the land.

“We must put that back into balance,” she said. “We must learn to have an economy that no longer depends on the outside world to feed ourselves. We must have an economy where we create our own industries … we have been too dependent on tourism to get that quick buck instead of asking ourselves ‘Is this good for my daughter’s generation?’”

Former U.S. Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa said any vision of a future Hawaii needs buy-in from a majority of the community — and especially those who are the future. She was president of the state Senate when it hatched the Sustainability 2050 initiative.

Twelve high school seniors who participated were asked if they were expecting to return to Hawaii after college. “Not one hand went up,” she said. “And when we asked them why, they said ‘Hawaii doesn’t have a place for us.’ That is something that I carry with me all the time — that feeling that they don’t have a place.”

Businessman and first-time elective office seeker Keith Amemiya played up his lack of time in the political arena as a plus as he’s visited the island’s communities over the past nine months. Quality of life and “just the difficulty trying to make ends meet” were the top priorities for voters, Amemiya said.

“Although COVID-19 is an unprecedented crisis, I also view it as an opportunity to fix things that have been untouched too long,” Amemiya said. “Whether that’s our over-reliance on tourism, whether that’s our failure to address food security or climate change, we need to do that now.”

Choon James, small businesswoman, said she’s been an advocate for a sustainable community since long before it was a popular issue, and that much of her time testifying at Honolulu Hale has been fighting for fiscal responsibility.

“I’m so concerned that too many young people are working two to three jobs just to put food on the table, and our seniors have to delay their retirement just to survive,” James said. Holding up an uku comb as a prop, she said she wants to take an uku comb to all major city budget items and that she intends to stop the increasingly expensive rail project at Middle Street.

Downtown resident Ernest Caravalho called food sustainability the top priority as Oahu and the state emerge from the pandemic.

One way that can be achieved is by promoting more trade between the Hawaiian islands, he said. “We can help our brothers and sisters on the island of Hawaii by buying food from the island of Hawaii and bringing it here,” Caravalho said. “We should be reaching out to all of them. We need to bring our people back together — we’ve been separated, we’ve lost aloha.”

Former state Sen. John Carroll said state leaders have failed to successfully lobby for removal of the federal Jones Act, the controversial federal law that regulates maritime commerce in the country. The legislation “basically has put our entire economy, including agriculture, into the toilet,” he said.

Carroll said he will either convince the president to sign an executive order rescinding the Jones Act, or file a class action lawsuit on behalf of Honolulu residents. “We can then have basically a worldwide, sustainable and affordable place to live,” he said.

Among major candidates who did not attend virtually, businessman Rick Blangiardi could not participate due to a previous commitment, a campaign spokesman said.

A spokeswoman for former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann said the deadline to accept an invitation to the forum did not mesh with the timing of his filing of nomination papers on June 1, the day before the campaign filing deadline. But Koohan Paik-Mander, a representative of the Just Transition Hawaii Coalition, said she emailed the campaign on May 29, after Hannemann pulled nomination papers expressing interest.

Paik-Mander said two of the 14 candidates — Ho Yin (Jason) Wong and William “Bud” Stonebraker — were not invited due to an oversight on her part. All others — David “Duke” Burgoin, Karl Dicks, Tim Garry and Audrey Keesing — were invited via email and either did not respond, declined or accepted but did not participate.

The next major Honolulu mayoral forum, and the first to be broadcast live on TV, is the one-hour Insights on PBS Hawai‘i program at 8 p.m. Thursday. Eight of the candidates are scheduled to appear.

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