Long-time television executive Rick Blangiardi captured the Honolulu mayor’s office Tuesday night, easily outpointing fellow first-time candidate Keith Amemiya by about a 6-4 margin.
Blangiardi’s win ushers in a new era at Honolulu Hale, where two-term Mayor Kirk Caldwell has been top dog since January 2012. He captured 60% of the votes compared to Amemiya’s 40%.
Caldwell is finishing up the second of two consecutive terms and is prohibited from seeking a third straight term.
The new mayor will be sworn in at noon on Jan. 2.
Blangiardi, in remarks shortly after the results were released, acknowledged that he is a political neophyte and will need the help of a solid supporting cast at City Hall.
“We do have our challenges, and I’ve said from Day 1 that it’ll be our team, the team that we put together, the men and women who are going to take this on. I’m not going to be able to do this alone,” he said.
The challenges raised by the pandemic make it urgent that the entire work together. “We, as a people, living on this island, with the challenges we face, have got to be unified. We’ve got to be as one people, (on) this island together, facing this future. I promise you, we will work very very hard at trying to solve and take care of all of the problems, which I know are many.”
Amemiya, shortly after the first printout was released, conceded defeat to Blangiardi and urged supporters and the public to support the new mayor.
“We all need to get behind and stand with Rick Blangiardi as our next mayor,” he said, also citing the issues caused by the coronavirus.
Blangiardi grabs the reins at an unprecedented time when the worldwide pandemic has up-ended not only the priorities of Oahu voters, but also forced the candidates to throw out their traditional campaign playbooks.
Blangiardi and Amemiya emerged from a primary election field in August that saw a record 275,744 voters pluck the two newcomers as their finalists from a field of 15 hopefuls that included household political names like former U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, one-time Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann and current Councilwoman Kym Pine.
While a first-time candidate, the 74-year-old Blangiardi is familiar to television viewers who know him well as the longtime general manager of Hawaii News Now, the state’s largest television news outlet. Blangiardi appeared frequently in the middle of primetime newscasts with on-air “Local Connection” commentaries where he gave his personal take on a variety of timely news issues.
Blangiardi announced his candidacy in February just weeks after announcing his retirement from Hawaii News Now. Using the slogan “it’s about you,” the one-time UH football assistant coach and player told supporters gathered at Old Stadium Park that while he didn’t have all the answers, he was willing to learn and use his years as a successful business executive to guide him.
The 55-year-old Amemiya, the former insurance executive who gained headlines as executive director of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association from 1998 to 2009, began his campaign in August 2019.
The results of the Aug. 8 primary showed Blangiardi winning 25.7% of the vote, followed by Amemiya with 20.6%, Hanabusa with 18.6%, Pine with 14.4% and Hannemann with 10.1%.
Several voters who spoke to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser said they were tired of seeing the same faces on the ballot and wanted to see new ideas at City Hall.
The Star-Advertiser’s Hawaii Poll from mid-October showed Blangiardi running ahead of Amemiya by a 49%-36% margin with 15% of those queried still undecided.
In the poll, Blangiardi showed broad support across nearly all demographic groups, outpointing Amemiya in every gender, age and ethnicity category. The only category where Amemiya fared better was among those who identified themselves as Democrats, a group he made a big effort to cultivate, even though city elections are nonpartisan.
Besides the polls in mid-October showing Blangiardi ahead, recent campaign financing reports showing him, for the first time, outraising and outspending Amemiya also foreshadowed tonight’s outcome.