Puna Councilwoman Jen Ruggles has withdrawn her candidacy for re-election, leaving two political newcomers as the voters’ choice for the District 5 council seat.
Because Ruggles withdrew after the deadline, her name will still be on the ballot, but her votes won’t be counted, said Hawaii County Clerk Stewart Maeda in a proclamation signed Friday.
Ruggles’ request to withdraw came as special all-mail ballots were being prepared to be sent today to voters in Pahoa Community Center, 04-03, and Pahoa High/Intermediate School, 04-04. The state Elections Office opted for mail-in only ballots for those precincts because of the lava emergency.
Maeda said Ruggles’ announcement came in the nick of time to stuff a notice in the ballot envelopes.
Ruggles’ withdrawal came after the deadline to withdraw from the race. Withdrawals this late in the game are allowed only with a doctor’s note, under state law.
Ruggles, 29, has served her first term as an advocate for the poor, frequently butting heads with the council majority on such issues as raising taxes and fees. She’s pushed for more taxes on the wealthiest residents and property owners on the island, while seeking more county services for the many impoverished residents of her Puna district.
Ruggles didn’t immediately return voicemail and text messages, and hasn’t said what made her decide to withdraw.
But in a public Facebook posting, she said she’ll be “finishing strong” during her final six months in office.
”My work is not finished, and will not be finished when I leave office,” Ruggles said in her post. “I will continue to focus on our district, fight regressive tax increases, to stand up for our disadvantaged populations and protect our natural resources.
Remaining in the race are Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder and Frederic Ric Wirick.
Kanealii-Kleinfelder and Wirick, contacted for comment, said Ruggles’ announcement was unexpected, but their campaigns won’t change with her withdrawal.
“I don’t believe this was a campaign against Ruggles; I think it’s a campaign for the island,” Wirick, 57, said about his candidacy. “We need to get back to basics — improve our infrastructure and feed our people.”
Wirick is pushing for increased sustainable agriculture on the island by reforming laws and codes that work against farmers.
Kanealii-Kleinfelder, 37, said he’s running a proactive campaign as well, in his case, focusing on making the island a better place for the next generation.
“She was a very strong incumbent,” Kanealii-Kleinfelder said. “We hope she is doing well and that whatever it is that is keeping her from running is not too serious.”
The first candidate forum of the election season is planned for 5 p.m. Friday at Hawaiian Shores Community Center, Wirick said.