Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023|
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Harry Kim was set to defy the odds makers and the fundraisers Saturday, trouncing Wally Lau and 11 other candidates in his path to reclaim the county’s top post.
Kim, a former mayor who was term-limited in 2008, started the evening with a big lead, and as the night wore on, he didn’t let go. Kim seemed set to win the election outright without having to go to a runoff in the general election. A candidate needs 50 percent plus one vote to do that.
With 42 of 43 precincts reporting Saturday night, Kim had 18,869 votes, or 51.6 percent, compared to 9,195 votes, or 25.1 percent, for Lau, Mayor Billy Kenoi’s former right-hand man.
Former Kohala Councilman Pete Hoffmann had 3,839 votes, or 10.5 percent. Ten other candidates in the crowded field shared the remainder.
Kim’s results were bucking prognostications by most within political circles, including longtime pollster George Yokoyama who on Friday was predicting a Kim-Lau runoff.
Still, Yokoyama said, Kim has the name recognition, because “everybody knows Harry,” while Lau, running his first campaign, still needed to get his name known to voters, especially on the east side of the island. The early returns included all the early votes and absentee votes plus some Hilo-side precincts.
Kim, 76, of Hilo, ran on a “bring trust back to government” platform, a sly wink at the ethics and criminal charges levied against the current mayor for his admitted misuse of his county-issued credit card, known as a pCard. Kim had lost a bruising campaign to Kenoi by 1,438 votes in the 2012 general election after holding him back in the primary.
“We’ve still got a long night ahead,” Kim said early in the evening as the crowd of supporters sharing the evening at his sister’s house roared in the background.
He couldn’t be reached by press time for further comment.
A more subdued Lau, speaking from a quieter room, said he’s not giving up, even after the third printout showed Kim widening his lead.
“I’m staying positive and I’m staying optimistic,” Lau said. “We’re waiting to the very end, and stay optimistic we can win in the general.”
Lau, 68, of Kailua-Kona, had been able to bat back questions about his role of managing director during Kenoi’s pCard misuse, putting himself in the awkward position of distancing himself from Kenoi’s problems while at the same time touting the successes of the administration he helped manage.
Lau’s used a “caring for the community” slogan on his campaign material, stressing balancing competing interests as his approach to solving community problems.
Lau, who resigned as Kenoi’s managing director to run his campaign, powered his war chest with more than $200,000 in contributions, allowing him to blanket the island with his distinctive purple and yellow signs. Lau also has a support base of county officials who are comfortable with his management style and hope to keep their jobs.
Unlike the rank-and-file and civil service workers, cabinet members such as county department heads leave office with the mayor and have to be reappointed to stay on in those posts. Support for Kim and Lau is split among the various union leadership.
Kim’s $13,570 in $10 or smaller contributions paled in comparison to Lau’s money, but he had union support in the form of third-party advertising to help level the field. Kim’s support base includes constituents who remember him fondly from his eight-year stint as mayor, and a number of current rank-and-file workers less happy with Kenoi’s — and by extension Lau’s — management style.
Crowds about equal in size and volume cheered Lau and Kim at a Democratic Party unity rally Friday, as candidates gave short speeches at the Mooheau bandstand in Hilo.
Hoffmann, 75, of Waikoloa, a four-term County Council member and former council chairman, plowed the $27,224 he raised into getting his name out, especially to those crucial East Hawaii voters who didn’t know him as well as those on the western and northern parts of the island.
Hoffmann wasn’t quite ready to concede the race or talk about who will earn his endorsement in the early printouts. He’s been spotted, however, in animated private discussions with Kim at recent events.
Hoffmann wanted to create a county office of agriculture and pursue rural development grants to make the county not only self-sufficient, but as the breadbasket for the state. He cited his two years on the Army General Staff for the Pentagon as background for his plans for an efficiently run county government.
“If the trend continues, I’ll say I’m disappointed in the results, but I’ll get over it,” Hoffmann said as he finished dinner with his closest supporters at his Waikoloa home.
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