During the 2020 mayoral campaign, longtime television executive Rick Blangiardi made it a point to stress that he was a first-time political candidate able to bring a fresh perspective to Honolulu Hale.
In tapping former city Transportation Services Director Michael Formby to be his top lieutenant, Blangiardi picked someone well versed in the ways of city, state and federal government — and who knows a thing or two about the city’s vexing $10 billion- plus rail project to boot.
Blangiardi announced Monday his selection of Formby, 62, to be his managing director. It’s the first, and arguably most crucial, appointment the mayor-elect will make because the Honolulu City Charter describes the managing director as “the principle management aide of the mayor” and the person responsible for supervising the heads of the city’s departments and agencies.
Blangiardi, in a statement, described Formby as “a visionary” and “a results-driven leader,” and someone used to taking on tough challenges.
Current Mayor Kirk Caldwell, Formby’s onetime boss, applauded the selection.
“This is a person who’s going to hit the ground running,” Caldwell said. “He knows how the city works, he’s interfaced with members of our Cabinet, he knows the issues.”
Formby, during a brief interview Monday, agreed that he’s attracted to tough jobs.
“To me, that was attractive. It’s about putting your head down and finding a way to get things done and serving the people,” he said.
It will be the Blangiardi administration’s job to figure out how the city government and Oahu deal with COVID-19 and eventually emerge from the pandemic. The administration will also need to find ways to manage the $10 billion rail project.
Formby said he was also drawn to the job because of Blangiardi’s positive attitude, strong leadership skills, sharp intellect and inquisitiveness. He and Blangiardi share a need for “informed decision-making,” Formby said. “Before we make a decision, we want to have as much information and data as possible.”
An attorney, Formby has over the last several decades worked at the federal, state and municipal levels of government, although in recent years he’s worked at the city level.
Most recently he was appointed by the City Council to fill in as interim East Honolulu City Council representative while an election dispute between former Councilman Trevor Ozawa and current Councilman Tommy Waters was being resolved through a do-over election ordered by the Hawaii Supreme Court.
In the early 2000s, Formby served as former Gov. Linda Lingle’s deputy transportation director in charge of the Harbors Division. For a short time he was acting director of the entire Department of Transportation, responsible for state highways, airports and harbors.
Formby made such an impression on a certain state representative from Manoa — and frequent Lingle critic — that when Caldwell left the Legislature and took office as mayor in 2013, he sought out Formby to be his director of transportation services.
In 2016 Formby became interim chief executive officer of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation after then-HART CEO Daniel Grabauskas resigned under pressure.
Formby resigned from HART in November 2016 to become then-U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa’s chief of staff. At the time, Hanabusa had been chairing the HART board as a Caldwell appointee. As head of city transportation services, Formby also had a seat on the HART board, and the two served together for a year.
Following his time at the Council, Formby in May 2019 was named executive director of the Pacific Resource Partnership, the politically influential nonprofit funded by the Hawaii Regional Council of Carpenters.
Pacific Resource Partnership supported Hanabusa’s unsuccessful 2018 gubernatorial run, and after resigning from his post there, citing family priorities, Formby helped Hanabusa campaign for mayor over the past summer.
Hanabusa announced her support for Blangiardi after finishing third in the Honolulu mayor’s race in the August primary election.
Council Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi applauded Blangiardi’s decision to tap Formby as his managing director. She said Monday that East Honolulu residents were so pleased with Formby’s tenure on the Council they joked about wanting to put his name on the ballot as a write-in candidate, although Formby himself was emphatic that he would not seek the elected post.
“He’s very responsive to people and that’s why he’s so good,” Kobayashi said, noting he would drive out into communities to meet with people on their concerns.
Formby’s first task will be to help Blangiardi pick a Cabinet. A web page for those interested in joining the city administration should be up shortly, he said. Blangiardi takes over Jan. 2.
Formby’s nomination, as with most other major administrative officials, needs confirmation from the Council.