Name on ballot:
Ho Yin (Jason) Wong
(former) Chief Governance & Information Officer
Previous job history:
Chief Governance & Information Officer at a global cloud IT company
Previous elected office, if any:
Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Oahu.
BA in Economics, MBA in HR & Negotiation. Extensive international & national hands-on management, governance, audit and compliance experience. Highly results oriented. Effective and open communicator, with extensive negotiation, mediation and difficult situation handling experience. Also, unlike others, I am an independent candidate who does not accept any union or special interest group’s endorsement or money. The bottom line is, I have no political baggage. I am not for sale.
What is the most pressing need for the people you seek to represent, and what can you do to address that need?
There is no-to-little trust in the City and County of Honolulu administration, citizens’ voices are routinely not heard, and it is plainly obvious that the city is run mainly for the benefit of the few – the special interests who have bankrolled the current politicians. Additionally, accountability – the rail is the biggest, but hardly the only bottomless money-swallowing black hole – is conspicuously missing, while taxpayers hard earned money is wasted left and right with no respect whatsoever (good example of this: uproot and bulldoze a part of the Sherwood Forest for a pet project of zero value, then abandon the site and scrap the plans; using a paper shredder to simply shred the money would have been more effective).
I intend to put an end to this and to restore government the way it was intended to be: “by the people, for the people.” Citizens will be heard, instead of silenced and oppressed. Many city services will be virtualized, and many available 24×7. Where the city routinely fails to do an adequate job of servicing its citizens, public-private partnerships may be formed and local small businesses may get an opportunity to prove their ability to deliver better, faster service to citizens, at a lower cost (strictly performance based) than the city machine, delivering a win:win for both the citizens and the city budget. Special interests and connections will no longer have an overbearing reach and voice into the city administration. The city and county will be run for its citizens benefit, with the goal to increase and maximize the quality of life (“pursuit of happens,” the other theme of my campaign). My background and formal education in Economics, governance, compliance and audits, human resources, negotiation and executive management make me uniquely qualified with precisely the skill set that the city needs.
My first order of business in office will be to revitalize – jumpstart, if you will – the economy, that the dithering politicians have almost smothered to death, by following well-proven Economic and good governance principles. My multi-faceted plan is detailed on my web-site at https://www.2020jasonwong.com
As Hawaii faces the COVID-19 pandemic, what more should county government do to protect residents’ health?
There is no magic solution to the current global pandemic. The only way for it to go away and life to return to normal is for enough critical mass to acquire immunity, preferably through a vaccine. To the extent so possible, the county should get “first in line” to purchase enough vaccine supply, the moment it is available, for the entire populace. As we don’t know yet which vaccine candidate will be approved and work, we need to hedge our bets and get our pre-orders in – now – for not just one but several of the top contenders. As an island that’s reliant on tourism and global travel, much more so than anywhere else in the USA, we should be justifiably the first in line for a vaccine, and as the mayor I would work with the state and federal government to effectuate this plan into action.
Other than that, we need to “keep calm and carry on,” as the British government urged its people in 1939 before WWII. It’s a stark parallel, but truly, life goes on. We cannot afford to reduce the future prospects of students, the careers of professionals, or the financial safety and well-being of families, under an extended lock-down. Masks, social distancing, preventative hygiene, and contact tracing are all important, and we can’t let our guard down on that. We need to reserve a total lock-down for a scenario that would justify that, such as a the recent outbreak of the highly contagious and far more deadly “mystery” pneumonia (potentially a more deadly covid-19 strain, but uncertain as of yet) in Kazakhstan, were that ever to make it out further in the world.
The most important way to protect our residents’ health is to ensure that all medical services – such as routine doctor appointments, screenings, surgeries, and so on – are available and are not postponed (otherwise, there will be far more deaths from easily treatable causes that went untreated than there ever were from covid-19), and that covid-19 patients in hospitals are kept in fully isolated areas, and ideally rearrange hospital resources to create one or two covid-19 only hospitals, while other hospitals remain covid-19 free and thus lower risk for routine procedures. Additionally, we can’t forget about mental health: we need to ensure that, while following epidemiologists’ recommendations, as many of regular recreational and social activities (with social distancing in place) are available to our residents, to minimize the widely recognized long-term damage to mental health that this pandemic is expected to cause.
What should county government do to help residents who have been economically affected by the pandemic?
The county has limited resources, and limited revenue sources. Unlike the federal government, the county cannot print money, either. I believe that most help needs to come from the federal government, with the state next in line. While the county may not be able to help directly financially – not without drastically cutting basic services, that is – the county can and should do its part to revitalize, to jumpstart, the economy, as the most effective way to help the most of our citizens. The county may provide tax incentives and tax breaks to businesses that create – and keep – new jobs. The taxation system may also be more fundamentally transformed to be more growth and future oriented. The county may also, when tourism has been safely and practicably reopen, to engage in a national or global PR campaign and offer incentives to repeat high-spend visitors, such as a voucher that is practically cash equivalent towards their next visit to Honolulu, good for use at local businesses, where the local businesses that accept it would receive a 1:1 tax credit, not to mention more customers and more business (it’s a well-proven method successfully used to boost tourism and local business, used by certain Japanese prefectures). In short, we need to think creatively and outside the box, as we will need to make up for lost time. (More detail on these, and other policies, can be found on my web-site at https://www.2020jasonwong.com.)
Longer term, we need to increase – double, if not triple – the yield per tourist (look at Tahiti, who has done a wonderful job of this), and diversify our economy. I have a detailed whitepaper on this, titled Moving Beyond Tourism… Honolulu 2.0: The New Global IT & Film Hub (https://www.2020jasonwong.com/index.php/honolulu-2-0-the-new-global-it-film-hub/) on my website. Briefly, and without getting into too much of the finer detail, we need to move past the 1960s, 1970s and move into the 21st century, the knowledge economy. I have a detailed plan to empower our diverse and capable populace to more opportunities and higher-paying careers in the IT sector, by starting from the ground up – education: investing in our people, while actively working with national and global companies to establish presence in Honolulu. We need to be realistic and forward instead of backwards looking. What I mean, we have very limited land and natural resources here, and a high cost of living. It doesn’t make sense to try to do farming, as it is fundamentally incompatible with Hawaii in every way. IT, on the other hand, holds the keys to the future: it is already the sector with the highest sustained rate of growth, that will only further accelerate and continue to eclipse other sectors of the economy, over the years – and decades – to come. IT provides some of the best paid jobs – something that we badly need here, given the high cost of living. A skilled IT worker will be always in demand, even during a global pandemic as we are currently experiencing (it’s the only sector that’s grown while the rest of the economy has contracted). IT doesn’t generate any pollution or garbage, or use any natural resources. IT jobs can be done from anywhere with an Internet connection, and the current trend, at technology companies in particular, is to spread the employee base and scale down centralized legacy offices; meaning that, it’s easier and quicker than ever to relocate a good slice of operations to a more desirable place to live, and more advantageous time zone, like Honolulu. Now is the time to plant the seed and start reshaping Honolulu into a global IT hub. This, however, is a long-term project. It would be my long-term project, gradually growing and transforming Honolulu into a Global IT and Film Hub. (For more detail, and the film aspect of this, please read the Honolulu 2.0 whitepaper on my web site.)
Should public worker furloughs, pay cuts or downsizing be used to help the county deal with lower tax revenues and higher expenses during the pandemic? Why or why not?
I certainly do not want to do so, but I think that we’ll have no choice and we’ll be pushed into a corner and have to do so. We cannot spend more money than we don’t have; it would not be right for the county to borrow from the future and for us to leave our children to pay off our debts. On this topic, as on many others, it’s not a binary choice, it’s not a simple yes or no, however. My focus always is on thinking outside the box, of doing things smarter, better and more efficiently.
I would use this as an opportunity, as a catalyst, into virtualizing city services that can be virtualized. Again, it’s about moving past the 1980s that too many parts of the city still operate in and into the 2020s. Services that can be automated or semi-automated would be so automated, thus requiring less manual labor, and delivering much faster, higher service to our citizens. Good example of that is driver’s license renewals. One’s identity can be completely authenticated online: a photo of the expiring driver’s license, along with a photo (or a few) of the person are taken and validated in real time. The location is transmitted by the smartphone. Address verification and other document photos can be also taken and uploaded, if necessary. If it is good enough to open a bank account, it is good enough to renew an existing driver’s license. In fact, the whole process can be automated with little to no human intervention needed in most cases. If a vision check is required, one could still go in for an old-fashioned in-person renewal, or – better and easier – simply list their optometrist or ophthalmologist as part of the online renewal, if a vision exam has been performed in the last 12 months, and that vision test result would be used. End result: much faster, easier driver’s license renewal for our citizens, and less staff needed at the Satellite City Halls, resulting in lower costs. It’s a win:win. This is an example of how I would turn the current situation, a “lemon,” if you will, into a win:win scenario, or “lemonade.” We need to start leveraging the technology that is out there, and is widely used in other parts of the world, to deliver a comprehensive e-government service set to our citizens.
The other way to do things smarter would be to look at which city departments receive the lowest citizen satisfaction ratings and face the most delays. There, I would consider public-private partnerships. Namely, having a local small business take over all or part of the operation, under a strict Service Level Agreement governing aspects such as accuracy, response and turnaround time, and paid per each citizen serviced basis, instead of a fixed sum regardless of performance, with strict penalties for non-compliance with the governing service levels. This may be also a win:win:win all around: our citizens and businesses receive faster, higher level of service, we promote the growth of local small businesses and create more jobs, while we remove fixed costs from the city payroll.
What specific solutions do you propose to combat homelessness?
There are two types of homeless: temporary homeless, and occupational homeless. As we are living in a limited budget, limited resource universe, we have to take priority which at-risk group should be our focus. I believe that we should dedicate resources to convert the homeless population into a productive labor force. Skill training and career development center, on-the-job training program, would get these temporary homeless individuals back to workforce after upgrading their skills based on what’s in demand in local economy or by the city (for example, public parks maintenance). Simply put, we will provide housing for the homeless, train them and re-deploy back to work force – both public and city. Upon securing job placement, the individual will be paying back the temporary housing, training expense to the City in installments – this money will be used to fund the next temporary homeless individual – a plan that should be self-sustainable financially. Homeless individuals who were sent to Oahu from out-of-State, we will send back to their home State, or if the law permitted, we could invite them to join the military service to serve our great nation. For occupational homeless individuals, to the extent so permitted by law, they would be put in supervised community service program to earn meal ticket and shelter. Under my economic model, there would be no “free lunch.” Every person on Oahu should contribute to the community, while being treated with dignity and respect.
We can’t talk about homelessness without talking about mental health and substance abuse, as it’s a vicious circle where one feeds the other. As we all know, there is a major mental health crisis in our nation, that the federal and state government have turned a blind eye to. It comes down to us in the City and County of Honolulu to ensure the safety to our residents and visitors, and to bring the help that they need to those who suffer from mental health and/or substance abuse issues. Our streets should be safe. No one deserves to be afraid to be simply walking on the street, or going into a park restroom. It should not be the job of our police to deal with mental health issues. Those who suffer from mental health and/or substance abuse issues need help. It is our job as a community to help those in need to get back on their feet and become productive members of society again. I would create a Mental Health & Substance Abuse Treatment Panel of Experts and advocate for a comprehensive treatment plan, from A to Z – from rehab through assistance with positive re-integration into society, such as help to find a job and housing. By taking mental health and substance abuse off our streets, treating it, and ultimately re-integrating those individuals back into our society, we will not be only creating a stronger society, but also creating a larger base of tax-payers, thus helping to pay for the treatment and society re-integration programs. I firmly believe that for the homeless crisis to be fully addressed, we’ll also need to handle the mental health and substance abuse head on. I am prepared to deal with both, and would ensure that the fine work of the numerous non-profits is well-coordinated and that it all falls under a comprehensive umbrella of a plan, and that every step of the way, from identification, through treatment, housing, training and society re-integration, works well in lockstep.
Do you support or oppose stopping construction of the rail project at Middle Street? Please explain.
Yes. The rail does not – nor has it ever – made economic sense. It would be naive to think that upon completion of construction the rail’s phantom “black-hole” that is endlessly sucking up money will be gone. It’d be still there, as given the limited ridership, especially in a post covid-19 social distancing world, there is no way that the rail operations could be funded by ticket sales alone. My plan calls for a scrapping of HART as we know it and repurposing of the HART land and assets, to deliver the most benefit to the public at the lowest additional cost.
My first order of business will be to stop the HART bleeding. I will STOP all spending on the rail as soon as practicable. Next, an active two pronged approach to shine light and accountability on where it is due, and to salvage the enormous boondoggle, will be undertaken.
Transparency & Accountability:
An independent forensic audit commission will be established to find out who, when, and how has been responsible for the bottomless money pit that all of us – hard working taxpayers – have been pouring our money into, with no end in sight. Accountability and transparency have been conspicuously absent from this whole project. That will be no longer the case. The parties (ir)responsible for the out-of-control costs that we are all paying for will be held accountable.
There is no need to take what has been built and throw it into the ocean. Rather, an array of options for using the already-built rail tracks and stations, and already-acquired land, will be evaluated, and the most practical – those that provide the greatest public benefit at the lowest cost – will be undertaken. The existing HART infrastructure and land will be used to seriously tackle the homeless issue, improve education, and more. It’s all about using what’s already built, stop further spending on the rail to nowhere, and salvage what we have in the most practical manner. I will not be letting what’s been already built and acquired sit and go to waste. Rather, it will be repurposed and put to public benefit, at minimal additional cost (a drop in the bucket compared to the HART spending still to come if the city were to stay the current course, that will be stopped at once).
Turning the HART Lemon into Lemonade:
I have conceived a number of creative solutions (pending review of structural integrity and requirements) that can change the rail structure into other best use scenarios, such as:
1) Install pre-fabricated homeless shelters like a tree-house on top of the rail to get homeless population off the ground;
2) Build correctional facility on top of the rail to resolve the current over-crowding situation;
3) Build high-tech, next-generation technology institute on top of the rail where students will board the train to travel from lecture-hall/station to lecture-hall/station;
4) Build sport complex, track & field, lap pool, and bike & jogging paths as the newest attraction for locals and tourists;
5) Create outdoor meet market, open air cafe, eateries, bar, social events like wedding chapel on top of the rail – an inventive idea that was conceived in Venice where some bridges were constructed with indoor shops, housing on top of the canal…
Do you support or oppose using new city funds to cover any shortfall in HART’s construction or operating costs? Please explain.
I completely oppose this, as HART is a textbook case in total and utter fiscal fecklessness. Let me put it into perspective for you (source & more detail: https://2020jasonwong.com/index.php/hart-the-staggering-numbers/). The cost per mile to build HART is $450 million. It is a short-distance, low-speed, low-capacity local commuter train, built on mostly level terrain, without any underground or other complex portions, and with no freight connections or capability. A currently being built high-speed (bullet) train in Northern Europe is costing $14.3 million per mile – or 30 times less than HART. It is built on difficult terrain, consisting of marshes, countless river crossings, underground sections underneath UNESCO world heritage cities, and it has multiple multi-modal stations, for direct passenger and cargo connections to ship (harbor) and air (airport). It is a much higher caliber project, built in a more difficult regulatory environment – the European Union, yet it costs less than 1/30th of HART. What does this tell me? That there is no choice but to stop the rail at once, as it is beyond all hope. The oft-used quote, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results,” comes to mind. It would be illogical, irresponsible, and, frankly, insane, to keep on the path that we are going and to continue the work on the HART, to continue putting more money down that bottomless pit. It’s like realizing that you are deep in a hole, yet still keep digging deeper and deeper in, instead of trying to find a way out. The federal government has seen it for what it is. The only reason why so many local professional politicians “fail” to see this for what it is, I can only assume, due to the special interests and connections of theirs that are benefitting from the HART construction.
Do you support reforms to policing in Hawaii? If yes, please explain what reforms you support.
Honolulu is a diverse community. “Cultural mosaic” is Oahu’s harmonious social norm. Still, there may be bad apples in any situation, and these bad apples may hide behind a collective bargaining agreement and powerful union who may grant them de facto immunity even in case of serious wrongdoing. I am an advocate of breaking away from the union contract and to have individual law enforcement personnel being evaluated on their performance, crime-solving and crime-prevention efforts. The union’s collective bargaining power, and over-protected job tenure deteriorate the quality and performance of the police force.
The reform and overhaul effort should not be focus on police department operation, it’s the union that has handcuffed city administrators and oversight committee from kicking out bad apples in the force. Performance-based job and salary reviews increase morale, work ethic and efficiency. I also support actively collecting feedback of the community of their experiences, both good and bad, with the police, and to have the citizen reviews and ratings form a part of the review of each individual officer.
What can county government do to mitigate the affects of sea-level rise on Oahu?
We need to be thinking and planning for tomorrow, the next decade, the next 50 and 100 years ahead. To that extent, in my administration permits for any new buildings on low-lying flood-prone land will be gradually phased out. We will be actively encouraging both individuals and businesses to live and work on higher ground. It’s a gradual shift and move that we need to get under way, to avoid an increasing amount of structures becoming uninsurable in the future, to avoid an increasing number of infrastructure becoming unusable or compromised, and to avoid, among other things, the health risks of low-lying areas never fully draining, thus becoming breeding grounds for mosquito-borne illnesses. All new city and county infrastructure, including arterial roads, will be only built on higher grounds. We still have time, but unless we start moving more inland and higher soon, we may find ourselves in a situation of frequent flooding and needing to deploy permanent water pumps or to build extremely expensive (that will make the HART spending pale in comparison) seawalls, thus effectively destroying our beaches. Naturally, more higher-lying land will be rezoned to allow residential and commercial construction, and I would also like to evaluate and explore a potential “land swap” program, where the city and county may swap some county land at higher elevation in exchange for a flood-prone low-lying parcel of land, thus allowing forward-thinking residents to literally move higher up proactively. The best way to be ready for tomorrow is to plan ahead and prepare. Not being indebted to any special interests, I will propel the city forwards – and upwards, to be prepared and ready for tomorrow.
Additionally, by doing things smart and staying on the forefront of climate change preparedness, we may be eligible for various national, international, NGO and private enterprise grants, by participating in certain pilot or proof-of-concept projects. We need to think creatively and out of the box – as is my strength. The Honolulu tourist strip of 2070 (50 years from now) may no longer be Waikiki, but a beautiful, scenic stretch along a volcano crater edge, like on the Greek islands (such as Santorini), that is pedestrian only and makes the best use of the largely vertical land.
Is there anything more that you would like voters to know about you?
If you are tired of the same old “tit for tat” politics, and of those with the right connections living off your hard earned tax dollars; if you would like the next Honolulu Mayor to bring a roll-up-the-sleeves-and-get-things-done attitude, and creative problem solving that “turns lemons into lemonade,” then I am your candidate. Through my more than two decades experience in the business world – including residential and commercial real estate, and over a decade as the chief governance & information officer at a global IT cloud services company, through my formal BA in Economics and MBA in HR and Negotiation, and through my extensive travel and work experience, I bring a well-rounded, comprehensive skill set, experience base, and a global perspective – and am looking forward to leading with a purpose, by helping Honolulu overcome today’s problems, restore and grow its economy, and prepare and build for a better, stronger, more resilient and prosperous tomorrow for each and every resident. The two defining themes of my campaign are “the pursuit of happiness” and “government by the people, for the people.” I have no political baggage and I am not for sale. I am running for Mayor due to my strong conviction that Honolulu can become a global top tier city under my plan, the core principle of which is to improve the quality of life and prosperity of all of our residents.
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