Kierkiewicz, O’Hara in close contest for Puna council seat

  • Eileen O'Hara, Ashley Kierkiewicz and Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder.

Hawaii County Council incumbents fared well in Saturday’s primary election except in District 4, where Puna Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara was trailing challenger Ashley Kierkiewicz as of deadline.

With one of four precincts reporting in the lava-ravaged east Puna district, Kierkiewicz was leading with 1,429 votes, or 55.4 percent. O’Hara had 1,150 votes, or 44.6 percent. The tally also includes early walk-in and absentee mail ballots.

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Kierkiewicz, a 32-year-old Hawaiian Paradise Park resident, said she was staying humble but excited as she saw the results come in. She said voters were responding to her “aloha-driven, clean, positive campaign.”

“We retained the same message over the last 10 months, and we worked hard,” said Kierkiewicz, who works for a communications firm.

O’Hara, 66, couldn’t be reached for comment by deadline. She was elected in 2016.

In District 5, Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder held a commanding lead with 1,388 votes, or 68.3 percent, after early ballots were counted. Ric Wirick had 643 votes, or 31.6 percent.

The winner replaces Puna Councilwoman Jen Ruggles, who chose not to seek re-election, for the west Puna seat.

Kanealii-Kleinfelder of Kurtistown said he was still knocking on wood early in the evening but was encouraged by the early results that showed him ahead 2-1. He said Wirick was a good opponent.

“It fills me with pride knowing people are putting this faith in me, my district is putting this faith in me to be this person for them,” he said. “And that’s exciting. It feels good.”

Kanealii-Kleinfelder, 36, is an electrical journeyman for ProVision Solar. He and his wife own Liko Lehua cafe and catering.

Wirick, 57, of Orchidland said he planned to contest the results, citing the state Office of Elections choosing to mail ballots early to more than 6,000 voters in districts 4 and 5 because of the Kilauea eruption, and Ruggles’ name still appearing on the ballot because of her late withdrawal.

Ruggles received 237 votes as of deadline. Her votes are being dismissed since she dropped out of the race. Elections officials said voters were notified of that at polling places and in mail ballots.

But Wirick said he thinks the contest should be held again during the Nov. 6 general election. Nonpartisan races go to the general election if no candidate receives a majority of the votes.

He also claimed that voters had trouble finding his name on electronic voting machines in Pahoa. An Office of Elections spokeswoman couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

“I don’t feel it was a fair and balanced election process,” Wirick said. “It wouldn’t matter if I was winning or losing.”

Ka‘u/South Kona Councilwoman Maile David was headed for victory in the three-way race for District 6.

With seven of eight precincts reporting, she was leading with 2,612 votes, or 77.6 percent, far more than the simple majority required to avoid a runoff in the general election.

Yumi Kawano had 403 votes, or 12 percent, and Richard Abbett had 350 votes, or 10.4 percent, by deadline.

David said she was humbled by the support. She said it reflects the amount of trust she has built with her constituents.

“It tells me that the way I’m doing what I’m doing, it’s got to be the right thing to be doing,” she said, noting she tries to always call her constituents back and be a community advocate.

Moving on to the general election for a runoff will likely be Rebecca Villegas and Kelly Drysdale, who were out in front in a four-way race to replace Kona Councilman Dru Kanhua, who is leaving the District 7 seat to run for state Senate.

With two of four precincts reporting, the vote tallies for that race were: Villegas, 907 votes, 37 percent; Drysdale, 753 votes, 30.7 percent; Bronsten Kossow, 562 votes, 23 percent; Cynthia Nazara, 227 votes, 9.3 percent.

Kohala Councilman Tim Richards appeared to have secured a victory over challenger Maya Parish.

With three of three precincts reporting, Richards had 2,531 votes, or 54 percent, to Parish’s 2,142 votes, or 45.8 percent.

Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung and County Council Chairwoman Valerie Poindexter easily fended off their challengers.

Chung, who represents District 2, had 3,944 votes, or 88.7 percent with three of four precincts reporting. William Halversen, his opponent, had 502 votes, or 11.3 percent.

Poindexter, who represents District 1, had 2,853 votes, or 85 percent. Her challenger, Abolghassem Sadegh, had 499 votes, or nearly 15 percent.

Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy (District 3) and Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff (District 8) were unopposed.

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Council members will start their next two-year term in December.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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