HILO — Mitch Roth is giving up an almost assured third term as county prosecutor in order to run for mayor of Hawaii County.
Roth, 55, standing amid his old prosecutor campaign signs with the word “mayor” slapped in red over “prosecutor,” and cheered on by more than 100 supporters wearing new campaign T-shirts, made his announcement Tuesday at Liliuokalani Gardens.
“I love this island as I’m sure all of you do, or else you wouldn’t be here,” Roth said, adding he’s running for mayor because, “We have some cracks in it. It’s a little bit broken.”
Roth pledged to bring the community to the table to tackle “the best island’s” woes, while maintaining a culturally sensitive mayorship that encourages a strong economy while veering away from the over-development seen on other islands.
Mayor Harry Kim, who’s eligible to run for another four-year term under term limits laws, said Tuesday he hasn’t decided whether he’s going to run. Kim, 80, has said he wants to retire, but he also wants to be sure the county will be in good hands.
Kim said Roth has been in touch with him about the race.
“I gave him the standard advice to do what you do based on what you want to do, not what I’m going to do,” Kim said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do yet. I don’t know when I’m going to make up my mind. I wish him well.”
Roth, elected county prosecutor in 2012, was a deputy prosecutor for 19 years, five in Honolulu and 14 on the Big Island. He faced a tough race in 2012, but then went on in 2016 to win with almost 70% of the vote.
Roth was an early adopter of the community justice method of problem solving, and pledged to continue those community-focused principles if elected mayor.
“Over and over, it’s proven that the first step to problem solving, and community building, is to bring the right people to the table,” Roth said.
Roth helped procure a Weed and Seed grant widely credited for cleaning up Pahoa. He was the first prosecutor to use the state’s nuisance abatement law to close down drug houses and was granted an injunction to keep one individual reputed to be a drug dealer out of Pahoa.
He was on the task force that drafted the state’s ignition interlock law for drunken driving cases, and helped to pass the county ordinance known as “Aliyah’s Law” — named after Aliyah Braden, a 17-month-old Kona girl killed by a drunken driver. That law allows police to have the vehicles of drunken drivers and those driving illegally to be towed and impounded.
One of Roth’s campaign pledges was to look at unsolved murders, which have no statute of limitations, “with fresh eyes.” One of those was the notorious “Peter Boy” case, which ended with the conviction of Peter Kema Sr., who was sentenced in 2017 to 20 years imprisonment for manslaughter.
Roth joins what is likely to be a crowded field.
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.
Former Kailua-Kona restaurateur Tante Urban, who’s editor and president of the Maui newspaper, Fil-Am Voice, has also announced his candidacy.
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.