Tuesday, Dec. 05, 2023|
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Hawaii County voters in council Districts 3 and 4 will have to wait until November to learn who their County Council representative will be.
Both Saturday races ended in runoffs, with the top two vote-getters advancing. Each race had three candidates but no incumbents.
After all district precincts had reported, District 4 candidates Eileen O’Hara and Madie Greene, both of Pahoa, had moved on to the November ballot, having received 44.3 percent and 39.1 precent of the votes, respectively. Michael Bernard received 16.6 percent of the vote.
A candidate must earn more than 50 percent of votes in order to advance uncontested from a primary.
But Hilo’s District 3 remained too close to call for its two runoff winners.
At press time, with four of five precincts reporting, Sue Lee Loy had notched 42.2 percent of votes to advance, but Moana Kelii and Grace Castillo were virtually tied at 29.7 percent and 28.1 percent, separated by just 72 votes.
“It’s a very close race,” Castillo, 57, said. “We’ll see what happens on the last printout.”
Castillo said she hadn’t planned to run for office but was asked to enter the race based on her community safety background: she is a retired Hawaii Police Department sergeant and current law enforcement supervisor at the Hilo Airport.
“My immediate thought is I’m just so grateful for everybody who came out and voted and put me there,” Lee Loy, 46, said after the second printout was released. “I’m so grateful for that.”
“I think we just did it all when we chose to meet people,” she said. “We met them in the mailbox, met them sign-waving, met them door-to-door. It’s really no secret, we just used good old-fashioned hard work and canvassing.”
Kelii could not immediately be reached by press time.
Sitting council member Dennis “Fresh” Onishi of District 3 was term-limited. Both he and Greggor Ilagan of District 4 ran for state Senate seats but were unsuccessful.
Open elections with no incumbent are fairly common in Hawaii due to term limits, said Todd Belt, political science professor at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
But a lack of incumbent can change the nature of a campaign.
“Two things are very important in local elections: name recognition and endorsements,” Belt said. “Generally, the candidate coming in with higher name recognition will have an advantage.”
Incumbent candidates will typically carry over previous endorsements, meaning that in an open election newcomers have more opportunities to secure coveted signatures.
Endorsements in turn feed into name recognition. but when a candidate secures an endorsement, “they can help you to advertise.”
In the District 3 race, Kelii was endorsed by the Sierra Club and the Hawaii Government Employees Association, where she is a union agent and represents government employees in eight public sector bargaining units.
Castillo was endorsed by the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association and the Retired Officers of the Hawaii and Honolulu County Police Department.
Lee Loy had the endorsements of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, the Hawaii Regional Council of Carpenters, and Operating Engineers Local.
She also had the endorsement of Fresh Onishi on entering the race, which she described as “an incredible springboard for me to be able to connect with the community.”
“I appreciate him kind of looking towards that next generation to carry on exactly the kind of hard work that he’s done for District 3,” she said.
“Candidates build name recognition in a number of ways, but (one) is by being active in community groups prior to becoming a candidate,” Belt said.
He said sign waving and radio ads are also important in local elections.
Greene, 78, said she did signwaving for about a month prior to the election.
She last ran for a council seat three years ago, but “really wasn’t into it like I am this time.”
“In the morning and in the afternoon, twice a day,” she said of the sign waving. “My arm is about to fall off.”
“It’s pretty time-consuming, lots of energy” O’Hara, 64, said. Campaigning is like a “full-time job,” she said. “I was also working full-time.”
As of Wednesday, O’Hara had raised $9,896 for her campaign, with just over 75 percent coming in contributions of $100 or less. Greene had raised $6,274, with 19.3 percent in donations of $100 or less.
Bernard self-funded his campaign.
In the District 3 race, Lee Loy raised $28,170. Kelii raised $49,798 and Castillo had raised $18,071.
Visit hawaiitribune-herald.com to learn the final results for all primary races.
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