Seeking the top job: 10 pull papers for mayor

  • From left: Bob Fitzgerald, Mitch Roth, Mike Ruggles and James "Jiro" Yuda.

Running for mayor is proving once again to be a popular proposition, with 10 potential candidates pulling nomination papers as of Friday.

And there’s still a long way to go. Candidate filing runs through 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.

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The last mayoral election in 2016 saw 11 candidates filing by the deadline.

Four of the 10 this year have filed their nomination papers and three of those have registered with the state Campaign Spending Commission, a necessary step in collecting campaign contributions.

Bob Fitzgerald, 67, is the first West Hawaii candidate to file papers.

Fitzgerald, who served as director and deputy director of the Department of Parks and Recreation in former Mayor Billy Kenoi’s administration, said he decided to run for mayor after seeing a lack of progress on county projects over the past few years. A flurry of parks were either created or improved during his time in park management.

“It seems that nothing has moved since,” Fitzgerald said. “Things are at a standstill.”

Fitzgerald plans a public campaign kickoff event at 2 p.m. Saturday at Old Airport Park in Kailua-Kona. A longtime football coach, Fitzgerald has adopted a “one island, one heart” campaign slogan and says he has the leadership skills to keep people motivated to tackle tough issues facing the county such as homelessness and crime.

“My philosophy is keep a strong defense, we’ll move some offense and have some special teams to get things done,” Fitzgerald said.

County Prosecutor Mitch Roth has also filed for the mayoral post after announcing his bid in December. Roth, 55, 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.

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.

Mike Ruggles, who has recently been on the other side of the law from Roth, has also filed his papers.

Ruggles, 63, a longtime medical marijuana advocate, was found not guilty in November of charges relating to the running of an unlicensed marijuana dispensary in 2015.

His experiences in the county lockup have led him to push for more humane treatment of inmates than occurs in the overcrowded Hawaii Community Correctional Center, where he says as many as five inmates are crammed into cells designed to hold two.

Ruggles is pushing for an end to asset forfeiture, where law enforcement can seize the possessions of people who are arrested, even before they’re convicted of a crime. He also wants to see community farms replace incarceration for homeless people and drug offenders.

“We’ve got to take the desperation out of drug crimes,” Ruggles said. “Drug use is a mental health issue just like homelessness. A victimless crime — that’s not a crime; that’s something that should be handled by doctors.”

James “Jiro” Yuda, a former deputy public defender who now works in the Family Law Division of the state Department of the Attorney General, has also filed papers.

This is the first time Yuda, 44, has run for elected office. He lists public safety and climate change as top priorities.

“We have to address climate change sooner rather than later,” Yuda said. “We all have to be prepared, and I would definitely make that a priority.”

Using energy more efficiently is an important component of protecting against climate change, he said. Public safety is also important because many people don’t feel safe in their homes, he said.

“I have a grass-roots campaign that’s gathering steam,” Yuda said. “It’s something that I’ve been thinking about doing for a long time and I think now is a good time.”

Others who have pulled nomination papers but not yet filed:

• Former North Kona Councilman Kelly Greenwell, a farmer and nurseryman.

• Grayden K. Ha’i-Kelly, a musician and entertainer who also works at two Kona-area resorts.

• Wendell Kaehuaea, a Hilo security guard and consistent candidate for more than a decade.

• Abolghassem Abraham Sadegh, a former government official in Iran and frequent testifier at County Council meetings.

• Tante Urban, a former Kailua-Kona restaurateur who’s taken a leave of absence from the Maui newspaper, Fil-Am Voice.

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Mayor Harry Kim, who’s eligible to run for another four-year term under term limits laws, hasn’t said whether he’s going to run. Kim, 80, couldn’t be reached by press-time Monday.

To qualify for the ballot, candidates must come up with verified signatures of registered voters living within the district — 15 for local races and 25 for statewide and federal races. In addition, candidates must pay filing fees ranging from $25 to $500, depending on the race and whether they agree to abide by the state’s voluntary campaign expenditure limits in order to receive a discounted filing fee.

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