Hapai, Hoffmann, Kim, Lau headline forum; 1 uninvited would-be threatens suit

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HILO — Four candidates for mayor tried to stand out from a crowded field Thursday during a forum that concentrated on the island’s problems of homelessness, poverty and lagging infrastructure.

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HILO — Four candidates for mayor tried to stand out from a crowded field Thursday during a forum that concentrated on the island’s problems of homelessness, poverty and lagging infrastructure.

Marlene Hapai, 67, said health and safety and infrastructure such as roads are her top priority. Public-private partnerships and grants would help provide necessary resources, she said. She said working with the county’s community development districts would bring the issues directly to the public.

“I would aggressively go for grants that I would help orchestrate,” Hapai said, “and I would have department heads who could orchestrate.”

Pete Hoffmann, 74, said the county needs to invest in agriculture and affordable housing and bring more federal grants in to help pay for it. That would help reduce poverty and homelessness, he said.

“I have no one silver bullet that’s going to eliminate poverty,” Hoffmann said, adding that filling potholes is politically expedient, but “we must fill not only potholes but we must fill stomachs.”

Harry Kim, 76, cited his previous eight years as mayor as an example of what he would continue in a new mayoral term. He said the gap between the haves and the have-nots needs to be addressed.

“The principles of which we govern will be the same,” Kim said. “The decisions we made were made based on principles and nothing else — no politics.”

Wally Lau, 67, listed the county’s homeless crisis and repairs and maintenance of county road facilities and parks as top priorities. He stressed living within the county’s means.

“We’ve got to prepare for the day the economy takes a dip,” Lau said. “How are we going to hunker down in that little tough time to be sure we’re not caught in a bad situation.”

All four candidates said they support the Thirty Meter Telescope. That issue is currently up to a circuit court, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and the University of Hawaii, but the mayor will be required to enforce access if a decision is made to allow the project to proceed.

Candidates were mixed on their level of support for geothermal energy, but seemed to agree that warning systems should be improved.

Hoffmann served eight years representing North Kohala on the County Council, including two years as chairman. Kim was the mayor for eight years, after serving a decade before that as the voice of Hawaii County Civil Defense on the radio.

Lau most recently served as the county’s managing director, Mayor Billy Kenoi’s right-hand man.

Hapai is a science educator and former member of the University of Hawaii Board of Regents, and wife of former GOP state Rep. Archie Hapai.

Hoffmann, in an email earlier Thursday, attacked what appears to be Lau’s Achilles’ heel — he was Mayor Billy Kenoi’s top deputy when Kenoi was inappropriately using his county credit card, or pCard. The practice of charging personal purchases, which Kenoi admitted to, has led to Kenoi’s indictment on felony theft charges by a state grand jury. He has not yet gone to trial.

Lau has said he had no authority over the mayor’s actions, as Kenoi was his boss. But Hoffmann disagrees, saying the taxpaying public was his boss, not the mayor. Lau said Thursday he hadn’t seen the mailing and couldn’t comment.

Candidate Paul Bryant, 70, of Papaaloa, was one of the nine candidates not invited to participate in the forum. He threatened to sue the organizers, saying their nonprofit status prohibits them from holding partisan election events.

The rules the Internal Revenue Services posted for nonprofits says that educational events, including public forums, are allowed. However, educational events that “have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, will constitute prohibited participation or intervention,” under the IRS rules.

Other candidates are Wendell Kaehuaea, Alvin Akin Jr., Daniel Howard Cunningham, Helen Olena Luta, Shannon K.K. McCandless, Gene Tamashiro, Timothy Waugh and Eric Drake Weinert.

More than 250 people came to Sangha Hall to learn more about the candidates. Bryant, Luta, McCandless and Tamashiro were among candidates taking advantage of tables at the hall to display their campaign materials and talk to the public.

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Forum sponsors were the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce, Big Island Press Club, Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Hawaii Island Realtors, Hawaii Island Contractors Association, Kanoelehua Industrial Area Association and the Hawaii Island Portuguese Chamber of Commerce.

(Disclosure: Nancy Cook Lauer previously served on the board of the Big Island Press Club)

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