The two men vying for the helm at Honolulu Hale joined Spotlight Hawaii today to discuss how they would lead the city through the hardships caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Both Rick Blangiardi and Keith Amemiya are political newcomers and have touted their political inexperience as a benefit. Neither criticized Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s newly announced 4-tier reopening framework outright, but both expressed reservations about some of the restrictions.
“This is a start,” Amemiya said. “But my concern is that it’s a 4-tiered system and it may take up to four weeks to get as close as possible to reopen the economy fully, and I don’t know if our small businesses, and restaurants, and other types of establishments can afford to wait that long.”
Blangiardi said science should be used to guide decisions.
“We need to you know, use science and common sense,” Blangiardi said. “I think the bar closings were an overreach to be very honest with you. I wouldn’t be so restrictive to put a blanket approach on it and shut everything down.”
Blangiardi led the primary election with just over 25% of the vote. He grew up in Boston and moved to Hawaii in 1965 when his father was transferred to Pearl Harbor. Blangiardi is a graduate of Springfield College, with a master’s degree from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where he also played and coached football. He had a successful career as a television executive on the mainland and in Hawaii, most notably as the general manager of Hawaii News Now.
Amemiya garnered 20% of the primary vote. Born and raised on Oahu, Amemiya is a Punahou School, UH Manoa and William S. Richardson School of Law graduate. Amemiya left his position as senior vice president of Island Holdings to run for office. He is perhaps best known for the 12 years he worked as the executive director of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association. He also served on the board of Aloha Stadium, the Honolulu Police Commission, and the state Board of Education.
Both candidates took questions on COVID-19 violation enforcement, reopening tourism, diversifying the economy, the rail project, and climate change. Each also had the opportunity to ask the other a question.
Blangiardi went first.
“This is a non-partisan race but you insist on making it partisan by constantly emphasizing your political party. How is this not politics as usual? Is this a signal that you will only hire Democrats or work with Democrats?” Blangiardi asked.
“Of course not,” Amemiya responded. “The fact that I mention my Democratic party roots is because people ask that all the time. Even though it’s a non-party race, people know generally which party you’re affiliated with, so when asked, I tell them, ‘I’m a member of the Democratic Party. I believe in the Democratic Party ideals.’”
It was then Amemiya’s turn.
“I’ve set forth detailed plans, including my housing for all plan, to address our affordable housing shortage, and my Oahu recovery plan, that seeks to outline and describe how we’re gonna get out of this COVID-19 crisis and move forward, yet throughout this campaign, Rick hasn’t really come up with any plans,” Amemiya said. “So my question to Rick is: do you have any plans?”
“Look, just stop and think,” Blangiardi responded. “Three months ago, just three months ago, that’s only half the time we’ve been under the impact of COVID, how much has changed in three months, and we’re still three months out in front of a job. So yes, we’re developing a framework on all of the major issues. But I’m not gonna sit there and say, ‘we were so smart, here’s our plan, we wrote it six months and this is the way to truth and light.’ It’s not gonna happen.”
Both candidates emphasized their work experiences, and each said their commitment to the community drives their campaigns.
“As mayor, I’ll continue to do what I’ve always done throughout my career: find innovation solutions to complex problems and bring people together to get things done,” Amemiya said.
“I’m doing this with a real sense of conviction and responsibility, unlike anything I’ve ever felt in my life,” Blangiardi said. “I will give you my best and I look forward to what we’re going to create together.”
Spotlight Hawaii, which shines a light on issues affecting Hawaii, airs live 10:30 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Facebook page. Join Ryan Kalei Tsuji and Yunji de Nies this month for a conversation with guests. Click here to watch previous conversations.