Villegas wins council seat

  • Incoming Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas, right, with County Council Chairwoman Valerie Poindexter at the Democratic Party Grand Rally Monday in Hilo. (Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today)
  • Surrounded by supporters, Rebecca Shute Villegas, right counts down the time to the next print out at her home Tuesday night. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Rebecca Shute Villegas, center, is surrounded by friends and supporters at her home Tuesday night. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Kelly Drysdale checks for print out results in the District 7 County Council race Tuesday night. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Kelly Drysdale, center, is surrounded by supporters Tuesday night. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Rebecca Shute Villegas, center, checks on the printout surrounded by friends and supporters Tuesday night. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

HILO — Rebecca Villegas will be the new face of Kona on the County Council.

With all four precincts reporting Tuesday night, Villegas had 2,920 votes, or 56.6 percent, overpowering Kelly Drysdale for the seat vacated by Dru Kanuha.

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Villegas, on the phone when the final tallies came in, had to hang up as champagne was poured on her head by supporters.

She was gracious about her win, saying there had been no animosity in her race. Villegas had led the race for the nonpartisan seat, but in a four-way primary fell short of the required votes to win outright.

“We were both running for a position and not against each other,” Villegas said. “It’s an important perspective and how it should be.”

The Kona seat was the final one on the nine-member council to be decided, with all other seats settled in the primary election.

Both of the candidates have appeared on the other side of the dais, attending council meetings and submitting testimony on issues of concern. Now one of them gets to step it up.

Villegas thanked her family and supporters for bolstering her “emotionally, financially and physically” in her race.

“I’m extremely grateful and tremendously honored for what I recognize to be a profound responsibility,” she said.

Drysdale could not be reached late Tuesday, after the results came in.

Villegas, 45, of Kailua-Kona, runs her own event marketing business, after 14 years as Hawaii marketing manager for Kona Brewing Co. She has a bachelor’s degree in business management from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Drysdale, 59, also of Kailua-Kona, moved to the area to help her parents manage their restaurants, Don Drysdale’s Club 53 and Drysdale’s Two in the Keauhou Shopping Center. She studied radio and TV communications at San Diego State University and currently works as director of logistics for Kona Coffee &Tea Co.

Drysdale cited her time spent over the last decade trying to champion development of a regional park in West Hawaii. During that time, she said she worked closely with two mayoral administrations to develop nearly 200 acres for beautification purposes and to serve as a local revenue source by bringing in sports tournaments and the like to the area.

Villegas said she’s been advocating for the ethical care of Hawaii Island since her teenage years, collaborating with business and political leaders to tackle issues like homelessness and conservation. She said her greatest accomplishment is the establishment of a park at Kohanaiki, also known as Pine Trees, during her time as president of the Kohanaiki Ohana, as well as her advocacy over the years leading up to the ultimate realization of the park.

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Villegas said priorities are homelessness, biosecurity and bolstering current projects in the county pipeline. Housing is also a priority for Villegas. She said she’ll collaborate with state, county and community groups already working to provide services and housing for the homeless population in West Hawaii and on the island. She also plans to work with the Kona Community Development plan to help provide more affordable housing in District 7.

The district includes part of Kealakekua, Kona Scenic Subdivision, Kainaliu, Honalo, Keauhou, Kahaluu, Holualoa, Kona Hillcrest, Pualani Estates, Sunset View, Kuakini Heights, Kona Vistas, Alii Heights, Kona Industrial and Lono Kona.