HILO — There’s just one County Council seat remaining to be filled, and with Election Day less than a week away, two political neophytes are battling to the end to fill it.
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.
The seat is being vacated by Councilman Dru Kanuha, a Democrat who faces Libertarian Michael Last for the state Senate District 3 seat.
In the nonpartisan council race, Rebecca Villegas had edged out Kelly Drysdale in the primary, but in a four-way contest for the open seat, she didn’t win the requisite 50 percent plus one vote needed to avoid a runoff. Villegas garnered 1,240 votes, or 37.2 percent, to Drysdale’s 1,032 votes, or 31 percent.
Villegas has greatly widened her money lead over Drysdale, according to reports covering Aug. 12-Oct. 22 filed with the state Campaign Spending Commission by Monday’s deadline.
Villegas’ $10,350 in new money is split almost 50-50 between contributions of $100 or less and those greater. The larger amounts came mostly from individuals giving $500 or less, with one $2,000 contribution coming from the use of a Fair Wind Cruises Inc. boat for a fundraiser.
Drysdale, in contrast, raised $1,930, primarily from five individual donations of more than $100.
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 has two specific priorities she said she’s already working on — homeless housing and a physician’s assistant school for West Hawaii. She hopes the higher profile of being on the County Council could help bring them to fruition.
She points to the successful plantation-style Kahauiki Village on Oahu, a public-private partnership development with the state of Hawaii, the City and County of Honolulu and the nonprofit aio Foundation. That project, Drysdale said, is a better model than the Village 9 project Mayor Harry Kim’s administration is discussing.
“If we could get something like that over here, that would definitely make a difference in affordable housing,” Drysdale said.
Drysdale’s other priority, a physician’s assistant training school to improve medical care in the face of a severe shortage of physicians, is less a county project, but it’s something she’s working on nonetheless.
“These are things needing to come to fruition,” she said.
Housing is also a priority for Villegas. She said, if elected, 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.
And, she supports ongoing efforts to revitalize Kona town, “so it is safer and cleaner for business owners, residents and visitors alike,” she said.
“I’ve learned that I still have more to learn and more to share, that teachers are everywhere and solutions lie in wait of discovery. If we resist the paralysis of fear, choosing instead to care and share, then opportunities for solutions are just around the corner,” Villegas said. “It’s going to take a village — thankfully, we are blessed with a strong one.”