Will he run for re-election? Would-be candidates wait for Kim

  • Tante Urban
  • Wendell Kaehuaea
  • Mayor Harry Kim

HILO — Will Mayor Harry Kim run for re-election?

That’s the question on a lot of people’s minds with the campaign qualifying season set to commence in less than three months. Two candidates have already kicked off campaigns, while others wait to hear if Kim is planning to run again.

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Even the mayor doesn’t know yet.

On the one hand, at 80 years old and having recovered from several heart attacks, Kim said he’s ready to try yet again to retire. Kim served eight years as mayor before sitting out eight years, and then won a new four-year term in 2016.

He owes it to his family to spend more time with them, he said.

“I’m not going to kid myself about my health,” Kim said Friday in an interview in his office.

Kim has previously told the County Council he has the right to work himself to death, but he doesn’t have the right to work his employees and top staff to death, too. With last year’s volcanic eruption, hurricanes and flooding events, and now, the Maunakea standoff, there has been plenty of work to do.

Kim wants to see his vision for Maunakea implemented before he goes.

His proposal for finding resolution to the conflict is outlined in “Heart of Aloha – Maunakea: A Way Forward.” He put the pamphlet together and released it in late September, a couple of months after Gov. David Ige tasked him with negotiating with telescope opponents.

“Not to sound egotistical, but I really am looking for someone I feel confident who will carry on some of the same values and principles, so people can trust their government,” Kim said.

While the more seasoned county officials bide their time, two candidates who haven’t held public offices are off to an early start.

Wendell Kaehuaea, a Hilo security guard, announced his candidacy a year ago, and has posted more than 30 campaign banners around the island. He’s got bumper stickers, too.

It’s by no means Kaehuaea’s first time out of the gate, but he’s hoping the 25th time is the charm. He ran for mayor in 2016 and has also run for governor, state Senate and County Council.

“My record right now is 0 and 24,” Kaehuaea said Monday. “I started this campaign a year ago and I’m getting a fabulous response.”

Kaehuaea is calling for an independent audit of government revenues and wants to bring in senior citizens as volunteers to staff the phones, so callers could get a live person instead of a machine. He also wants to eliminate property taxes for those over 65.

He said he’s familiar with all nine districts in the county and could help tailor solutions to each’s particular problems.

“It’s all just basic common sense,” he said.

Restaurateur Tante Urban, of Kailua-Kona, on Oct. 24 filed organizational papers with the state Campaign Spending Commission. His bumper stickers are also starting to appear on the street.

Urban, who couldn’t be reached for comment by press-time Monday, is embracing a candidacy that offers an outsider’s perspective and that’s different from politics as usual.

“I am applying for mayor of Hawaii County because I want to give our people a choice — a choice of new beginning, a choice of new leadership,” Urban says on his candidate website. “A leader that will look at things in a different perspective with a different approach — from a business and outsider’s point of view. … I am here because I love Hawaii, I love our people and I am ready to work for our people.”

If history is a guide, the nonpartisan race will draw a host of candidates. There were 11 for the open seat in 2016.

Candidate filing runs Feb. 3-June 2, with the field to be winnowed down in the Aug. 8 primary. If no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, the top two contenders will face off in a runoff in the Nov. 3 general election.

Kim has said he plans to decide early, but he doesn’t think candidates should wait on him.

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“I owe it to people who want to run and they should know what I’m going to do as fast as I can,” Kim told Rotary Club of Kona Sunrise members last week. “On the other side, people who want to run because they can do better, I feel that they should run regardless of what I do.”

(West Hawaii Today Associate Editor Chelsea Jensen contributed to this report.)

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