Honolulu mayor-elect Rick Blangiardi indicated today he is willing to be more aggressive in re-opening Oahu to allow for such things as bars, other small businesses and team sports to be open more quickly than under current Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s existing tiered system of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I would really be willing to … take a look at what we can do to open up certain things,” Blangiardi said during this morning’s segment of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser live stream program Spotlight Hawaii. “I think I take a very different approach to what’s being done right now on getting our kids back to playing sports …”
Generally, “I really want to take a look at that versus keeping everything shut down,” Blangiardi said. “At some point, we need to learn to live with this disease. And we’ve been living with this a long time.”
Blangiardi takes over the reins of city administration from Caldwell at noon on Jan. 2.
“It’s too soon to tell … I will tell you that the tiered system seems to have had some good effect,” he said, adding that he’s observed more people with face coverings and adhering to social distancing and other prescribed methods to deal with the pandemic.
“I think at some point, I don’t believe we can wait this out,” Blangiardi said. “I don’t want it necessarily going back to the tier system (and have it) be driven by the metrics. I want to look at the science and the data. And right now our containment of the disease here … these are low percentages in comparison and I really want to be able to weigh that.”
He stressed he’d first want to sit down with the medical community for their advice. “But I’m just telling you for me and my personal bias … I’m going to be a little more interested in being a little bit more aggressive, I believe, if we can.”
“I think at the end of the day, I think we’re all evolving. Feels like we’ve been in this thing much longer than we ever thought we’d be.”
With tourism now expected to return to Hawaii’s shores more slowly than originally anticipated, “I’m concerned about all of the businesses that got deemed non-essential and where they are right now at this moment in time, and whether or not we can at least get people back to work,” Blangiardi said. “I want to look at that. Really, especially because we have so many smaller businesses …. the ones that have been deemed essential that are doing well, but we’ve got a lot of small businesses that are on the brink of, if they aren’t already closded, perhaps closing … .because the impact on our economy is huge.”
Blangiardi noted that bars on Hawaii, Maui and Kauai have been opened. “My attitude to be candid with you is to open up the bars,” he said. “My atittude about this is rather than the blanket approach, is whether or not we could monitor places that might have deviant behavior … or weren’t prescribing to the protocols we have in place. I kind of want to get to a place now where people understand what it is that we have to do and we’re not going to have too many violators.”
Blangiardi said he’s had three meetings totaling eight hours with Caldwell and his staff in the past two weeks.
The mayor-elect said that like Caldwell, he backs Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard’s decision to suspend the use of patrol teams dedicated to pandemic rule violators amid an investigation into overtime abuse by officers.
He said he also endorses the belief that violators be given tickets rather than citations. “It might be a more enforceable thing,” Blangiardi said.
“I just think we have to do a better job right now on our collective sense of ‘we’re going to be going into our tenth month of this,” he said. “We’ve got to get on with our lives. We going to have to help each other … And I think maybe, perhaps, that would happen if we were not so restrictive in closing down and getting more things to be open.”
The mayor-elect said since being elected, he’s met with a series of people from Lt. Gov. Josh Green and Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, who is leading the state’s efforts to combat the effects of COVID-19, to Hawaii County Mayor-elect Mitch Roth, Hawaii’s Congressional delegation and Honolulu Star-Advertiser publisher Dennis Francis.
Battling the outbreak’s economic repercussions at Honolulu Hale is “absolutely going to need more money than we currently have” from the federal government, he said. “That’s what we’re going to have hope for.”
Blangiardi said that since the election, with his busy schedule and the stresses involved with starting a new administration, he’s gained 20 pounds.
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.