Next Mayor of Honolulu Must Have Executive Experience to Lead in this Most Critical Time

The 2020 mayoral race for the City and County of Honolulu is a crowded field; and as it should be, this will give voters a wide variety of candidates to choose from. There are well over 10 candidates. Even among the top five leading candidates, there is diversity: two major veterans in Hawaii politics in former Mayor of Honolulu Mufi Hannemann and former Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa, former media executive Rick Blangiardi, former insurance executive Keith Amemiya, and City Councilwoman Kym Pine.

In all likelihood, the stiff competition will not meet the required 50 percent plus 1 majority in the Primary Election and the top two candidates will move on to go head-to-head in the General Election. At that point, the crystal ball becomes foggier as to who will take the reins of the termed-out Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

A Smart and Tough Money-Manager 

The race for mayor this year is arguably the most critical in decades given the deepest recession ever the City finds itself in due to COVID-19. The next mayor will need to be a smart money manager able to make tough decisions, even if it means cutting services the City cannot afford. The next mayor must be able to work well with all the City’s collaborators – employees, developers, unions, large-to-small businesses, contractors, etc. – but also be strong enough to say no when the City’s budget demands a “no” answer. What would have been a possible option to raise the City’s coffers to maintain services, a property tax increase, is certainly not viable now given how the majority of Honolulu’s residents are suffering financially. 

Executive Experience Is A Must Considering the City’s Unique Emergency Situation

The City’s situation is dire. In any other year, perhaps voters could afford to elect a candidate not as experienced but possesses solid ideas. But this year, it’s critical that voters choose a candidate who can start the job on day one, someone who knows exactly what to do and not waste time engrossed in a learning curve. It would be silly, almost negligent to put an inexperienced surgeon to do the work of a complicated surgery. It’s no different that in this critical time for a city on life support (as so many other cities throughout the nation), voters must put in office the most experienced candidate to handle the job.

The mayor will need to find innovative ways to jumpstart the economy – first in reviving our number one industry tourism; and second in promoting a diversified economy

This is not to say that the most experienced “politician” should be the right candidate. What’s needed is someone with “executive” experience either in the private sector or government. It isn’t enough that someone served in city-state-federal government for decades. It isn’t enough that someone chaired a city or state committee. 

What counts as an “executive” in government are the obvious governor or mayor, but also a former Senate President, House Speaker or Chair of a City Council. It’s what that person has done as a true “executive” or “leader” – a proven leader, not just a role player, that will matter at this time. 

The same rule of thumb applies in the business sector. What should count in this particular mayor race is a CEO, President, or General Manager of a major and successful company. The City needs urgent, quick leadership. Any other top management role in business also (like just a long-time, role-player politician) isn’t enough in this particular year, this particular race for mayor.

It also helps tremendously that this next mayor must already have experience in tourism, the industry the city needs to bounce back from quickly. Diversification of the economy, while it sounds like a remedy, will take years to build. The city needs to move quickly on rebuilding what is its best structural economic engine at this current time – and that is tourism.

Based on “executive” leadership either in government or business the best potential candidates for mayor becomes clearer. Standing above the rest are Mufi Hannemann, Colleen Hanabusa, and Rick Blangiardi.

Other hot issues

Besides rebuilding the economy and tourism, the other two most pressing concerns for our next mayor will be rail and affordable housing.

With regard to rail — how to finish it and set-up the operational maintenance of rail will be critical. It’s been a complete disaster, way over budget, too slow, and who knows how much more money will be needed.

It’s debatable if former Mayor Hannemann had set up the rail project adequately for his successor Caldwell to take over. To an extent, that would determine G Hannemann’s culpability of rail’s current situation. But it would be unfair to hold him completely responsible for two reasons: rail was voted by the people (if you’re unhappy with it, you voted for it); and much of rail’s undertaking has been under the leadership of Caldwell. 

As former chair of HART’s Board of Directors, Hanabusa could be both credited and blamed for that experience. Credited in that she knows the project very well and will have the necessary knowledge to get it on the right track; but also blamed in that she had a leadership role in the project, but did not make the necessary changes to put it on the right track during her tenure. In fairness to her, however, ultimately that was Mayor Caldwell’s responsibility

Again, a strong leader and the best money manager will be needed for this project. 

On improving affordable housing, this is where innovation is paramount and where Kym Pine has ample experience and Keith Amemiya’s innovative ideas can flourish. Pine also has one up over the pack as the only top contender currently in public office which gives her the inside track on the most current policies enacted and up for consideration.

Voters are fortunate to have a motley of choices for mayor of Honolulu, especially during this time of economic emergency. Don’t let others control Honolulu’s future for you. Please go out to vote in the Primary Election.

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