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2020 Election: Keith Amemiya

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  • Keith Amemiya
Name on ballot:

Keith Amemiya

Running for:

Honolulu mayor

Political party:


Campaign website:

Current occupation:

Full-time Candidate



Previous job history:

1991 to 1998 – Employed as an attorney specializing in civil litigation
1998 to 2010 – Hawaii High School Athletic Association (“HHSAA”) Executive Director
2010 to 2012 – Executive Administrator to the Board of Regents – University of Hawaiʻi
2012 to 2020 – Senior Vice President of Island Holdings which has five subsidiaries, including Island Insurance and Atlas Insurance Agency

Boards & Commissions/Community Involvement
Commissioner – Honolulu Police Commission
Member – State of Hawaiʻi – Board of Education
Member – State of Hawaiʻi – Stadium Authority
Board Chair – Downtown Athletic Club Hawaiʻi
Executive Committee Member – Hawaiʻi Bowl
Board Member – Jump Start Breakfast Advisory Board
Board Member – Shane Victorino Foundation

Previous elected office, if any:


Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Oahu.

I was born and raised on Oʻahu and have lived here my entire life. After serving O‘ahu as a lawyer, nonprofit leader, and business executive for 30 years, I’m running for political office for the first time because I want to make sure our families can live in Hawai‘i for generations to come.

With a diverse background in both the private and public sectors and a proven record of bringing communities together, I know how to lead us through difficult times. When I headed the Hawaiʻi High School Athletic Association, I visited every community in the state and built relationships, particularly with working families. I listened to their concerns, their challenges, and their dreams. Our families deserve better—housing they can afford, a good job, and the ability to live beyond paycheck to paycheck.

My top priorities as Honolulu’s Mayor will be helping to lead our economic and health recovery, addressing homelessness, and ensuring safe and affordable housing for all Oʻahu residents.

What is the most pressing need for the people you seek to represent, and what can you do to address that need?

The most pressing need facing our island is our recovery from COVID-19. COVID-19 has forced us to confront many uncomfortable truths. Our over reliance on tourism has left many of our residents without work and crippled our small businesses. We should all now be convinced that our health as a community is our most important priority.

Leading a healthy recovery will require a clear vision for our future. My vision for our recovery is focused on healthy people, a healthy economy, and a healthy environment. We need to focus on testing, contact tracing and treatment, and ensuring basic needs are met for all. We need to contain the virus’ spread and take care of our workers’ health and safety as we reopen.

We need to rebuild a healthier version of tourism and to actually start diversifying our economy in agriculture, aquaculture, and renewable energy. We need to significantly increase the housing supply for Oʻahu residents and access to mental health treatment for our homeless community members.

COVID-19 is the crisis of today, but climate change is the crisis of our lifetime. The City must immediately enact a climate action plan, protect our natural resources, and strengthen the connection between people and place.

As Hawaii faces the COVID-19 pandemic, what more should county government do to protect residents’ health?

We need to ensure that all of our recovery efforts focus on the health, safety, and fair treatment of all Oʻahu residents first. We have an increased responsibility to protect our frontline workers in hospitality, tourism, and healthcare as we open up our islands and begin our recovery. To protect our residents’ health, the City needs to do the following:

– Test. Prioritize testing, contact tracing, and treatment. The City needs to work with the state Department of Health to lead the coordination of evidence-based and research-driven practices for community-wide screening and testing. To ensure the long-term safety of our community as whole, until we have a vaccine, we need to ensure that anyone who wants a COVID-19 test receives one.

– Communicate. Provide clear, consistent communication to the public, with coordination from all levels of government, business, and community leaders. Many residents and business owners feel confused, fearful, and uncertain with restrictions and recovery plans.

– Protect. Ensure front-line workers have access to personal protective equipment and safe working conditions.

– Residents First. Ensure that residents’ basic needs are met, such as food and housing.

What should county government do to help residents who have been economically affected by the pandemic?

The City needs to prioritize future federal relief money spending for Oʻahu residents and businesses. This means ensuring that federal relief dollars make their way into the hands of our residents and business owners who need help the most through City programs, grants, and loans.

The City must also lead the way in getting our people back to work. This means establishing contact tracing, safety, and sanitation protocols and standards in order to hold employers accountable and protect our community and hospitality workers. I will also prioritize City funds be used for physical infrastructure projects to jumpstart our construction industry while also tackling problems like our affordable housing shortage and aging infrastructure.

Long term, the City needs to lead the way in re-envisioning our island economy. The City needs to take action to create a diversified economy by investing in our people, investing in innovation and technology, and seeking out new economic industries like agriculture, aquaculture, and renewable energy.

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?

During times of crisis, government needs to step up and respond with a spirit of hope and opportunity, not fear and scarcity. City services are vital to the health of our people, our economy, and our environment; basic City responsibilities do not relax in times of crisis—we still need to take care of water, sewer, and other basic life necessities. Our public workers are important, and their financial stability and health is just as important to me as we pull ourselves out of this pandemic. They have pulled through for this island during this pandemic and have risen to the call.

Rather, I would focus on opportunities to invest in our local economy, strengthening key diversified industries, and supporting necessary infrastructure. Increasing the development of affordable housing within the urban core will also increase the tax base.

We can address some decreases in bureaucracy and improvement of City processes so that City services and programs get to the people and neighborhoods that need them. We also need stricter oversight and transparency of key City operating expenditures like rail. I also support a vacancy tax on property that is not occupied or on the market. This would both increase revenue and encourage property owners to list, either for rent or sale, and in turn increase supply while bringing down housing costs.

What specific solutions do you propose to combat homelessness?

I plan to address homelessness by focusing on building more housing units for homeless persons and increasing City mental health and drug treatment facilities. I will continue and expand funding for Housing First and take the lessons learned in developing housing specifically for homeless persons to truly build at a much larger and much needed scale.

My experience with Kahauiki Village, a public-private partnership with the City to create housing for over 600 people who were previously houseless including over 300 children, has made it clear to me that City leaders can and must do more for our families. My Housing for All Plan seeks to address this shortage for both homeless residents and all Oahu residents.

Additionally, the next Mayor needs to be ready to partner to tackle mental health and substance abuse. The most visible persons experiencing homelessness on sidewalks are chronically homeless persons that need stabilization and treatment. While the State has primary responsibility in these areas, it is clear that the City needs to be more of a partner to address the health and safety of its residents, especially now that the State faces the budget constraints they do following COVID-19. I plan to stay focused on tackling this long-standing issue in our community right out the gate with partners and stakeholders ready to work on solutions.

Do you support or oppose stopping construction of the rail project at Middle Street? Please explain.

Rail will be a key component in addressing community development going forward. The future of Honolulu requires a public transportation network for our island that is multimodal, accessible, affordable. We know that strong economies have strong public transit systems around which they build affordable housing and economic centers. Transit oriented development will allow us to provide greater affordable housing opportunities, design better neighborhoods, and support clean energy transportation solutions. What we need to do is provide better project oversight and transparency to our residents.

I am in favor of completing rail to Ala Moana Center as initially planned. The major problem with rail has been the mismanagement of past politicians and administrations. I will ensure proper oversight and transparency to finish it, operate it, and maintain it. Oʻahu needs a modern, dependable, and affordable transit system, especially for those stuck in traffic or spending long hours on TheBus or who spend a considerable amount of money on the costs of private vehicles and gas.

Do you support or oppose using new city funds to cover any shortfall in HART’s construction or operating costs? Please explain.

I am opposed to using new city funds to cover HART shortfalls for construction until we have full transparency and understanding of the current spending to date. There are federal funds available to support infrastructure projects like rail and that would be our focus. We need to look at creative solutions like leveraging federal funding mechanisms, including the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loans instead of traditional bond issuance.

As far as long term financing of rail operations and maintenance, rail will be funded by three main sources: 1) fare collection; 2) the recent increase in real property taxes for higher end properties; and 3) the cost savings for reduced bus routes due to rail. Public transportation has always been and continues to be an important method for equitable access to housing, jobs, and education, for which the government reasonably provides subsidy.

My City administration would not shy away from the responsibility of funding our existing TheBus and Handi-Van transit services when combining their forces with the new rail system. TheBus and Handi-Van services will still represent the majority of the City’s Transportation budget even with rail and other multimodal options included.

Do you support reforms to policing in Hawaii? If yes, please explain what reforms you support.

Black Lives Matter has shed light on the systemic injustices across the nation. The senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and people of color across the nation have left me horrified, angry, and devastated. This is the result of centuries of inequality, injustice, and discrimination.

If we’re being honest, these social problems exist in our islands as well. And too often, they are unaddressed because they are uncomfortable, complicated, and politically inconvenient.

I served as a Commissioner on the Honolulu Police Commission and have always advocated for an honest and corruption free police force. I believe we need to ensure our police are properly trained, equipped, and supported in order to keep our community safe, but we also need to demand accountability and transparency.

In light of the concerns raised by Justice Steven Levinson and Loretta Sheehan about the Police Commission, I am open to discussing ways that the City Charter can be amended to allow the Police Commission greater oversight over the department. Such an amendment would need to go through the City Council or a Charter Commission and be approved by the public. As Mayor, I will ensure that people appointed to the Police and Ethics Commissions are willing to publicly voice concerns and offer true oversight.

I support the concept of community-based policing. We need more partner programs with the police and other organizations, like community groups, non-profit organizations, and private partnerships to help provide police the support they need to deal with social services issues in the community like mental health, drug abuse, homelessness, and domestic violence.

Other steps I would take include continuing the ban on chokeholds, making implicit bias training required for all police and all City employees, and enacting a duty to intervene law that obligates officers to intervene in situations where they witness an improper use of force or ethical violation.

What can county government do to mitigate the affects of sea-level rise on Oahu?

I am committed to enacting into ordinance the City’s first ever comprehensive Climate Action Plan, developed by the Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency in partnership with our community.

The Climate Action Plan will be a critical step in protecting from sea level rise and the many devastating effects of a quickly warming planet. Managed adaptation and retreat will be a major part of the action plan, including evaluating building code and setback lines. In places like Waikīkī, electrical generators and elevator equipment are in basements prone to flooding from sea level rise. This creates a safety hazard for the many kūpuna and households with disabilities that reside in multi-story buildings.

We must reevaluate coastal zones and establish setbacks based on science and available data. When events do occur, we need to consider whether relocation is more appropriate than rebuilding in place. I also support the City’s lawsuit against the fossil fuel industry. Taxpayers should not be left to pay for the impacts of climate change when fossil fuel companies misconstrued the science and data showing the long term negative impacts of the products they sell.

Is there anything more that you would like voters to know about you?

I love Honolulu and want our people to live, work, and play here for generations.

Since I started my mayoral campaign ten months ago, I’ve talked with thousands of residents and they’re worried about their quality of life and the future of our islands. They shared with me stories about the impossible choices they have to make: spending time with their family or working multiple jobs, taking care of their health or working to get healthcare benefits, and paying for housing or paying for good food. The past generations of political leaders have failed our people. COVID-19 made it all the more clear that the leadership of the past did not work then and certainly won’t work in today’s world. We need more than just talk and legislation. We need action.

Honolulu needs leadership that will bring people together to finally get things done for our community, especially during this time of crisis. This election, our voters have a choice of status quo or change. I hope voters will join me in choosing change. Mahalo.

View more candidate questionnaires or see more 2022 Hawaii elections coverage.
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