Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024|
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This has got to be the toughest mayor’s race yet.
With just over three months remaining until the Aug. 8 primary, mayoral candidates interviewed Friday are finding campaigning a challenge during the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. A crowded field, an uncertain economy and obstacles to reaching voters have combined to raise the bar for candidates seeking to get their message out.
Instead of the traditional door-to-door canvassing and roadside sign-waving, many have taken to social media, volunteer work and more conventional advertising to reach voters.
Hawaii County Prosecutor Mitch Roth is running well ahead of the fund-raising pack of the five mayoral candidates who filed campaign spending reports with the state Campaign Spending Commission by Thursday’s deadline. Roth was the first announced candidate, and as an elected official, he already had a campaign account set up.
Roth had $107,217 in contributions for the filing period that ended April 25, compared to Ikaika Marzo with $8,235, Tante Urban with $4,000, Bob Fitzgerald with $2,300 and Michael Ruggles with $1,200.
Urban is funding his own campaign and Ruggles kicked in $1,000 of his own money for his. In addition, Kelly Greenwell, Grayden Hai-Kelly and James Yuda reported to the state that they won’t take or spend more than $1,000 in their campaigns and weren’t required to file a campaign report.
Other mayoral candidates — 19 had pulled papers or filed as of Friday — have until July 9 to submit campaign finance reports. Candidate filing ends June 2. The incumbent, Mayor Harry Kim, announced Tuesday he’s running for reelection.
If you think it’s tough to ask people for money in normal times, imagine trying to raise funds from shuttered businesses and laid-off individuals.
“Economically, people are taking a big hit,” Roth said. “We want to be mindful a lot of people are having some hardship. It’s not so much campaigning; it’s trying to help people.”
In addition to the typical banners and advertising materials, Roth reported he spent $1,746 for 3,000 fabric masks from a Waikoloa vendor. The masks aren’t emblazoned with campaign logos, but he’s been handing them out to people who need them, he said.
Roth’s major contributions include $4,000 each from six Hawaii Island individuals, in addition to a $4,000 donation from the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers union.
Marzo, a Pahoa-based tour company owner, reported his biggest contribution was $4,000 from the Ironworkers Local 625 union. He said Friday he expects endorsements from several labor unions once some of the uncertainty ends in mid-May when some of the restrictions are lifted.
Marzo, who’s had a strong social media presence since the 2018 Kilauea eruption, said to some extent, the stay-at-home orders have been a leveler. As more candidates adopt social media to get their message out, his strong following may give him an edge getting his message to voters. At the same time, older voters and those in limited Internet areas may not have the same opportunity to see his campaign message as the people’s candidate.
“It’s going to be hard, (but) now we’re all on the same page,” Marzo said. “Basically right now, it’s hard running this candidacy. We’re slowly adapting to it.”
Urban, a former Kailua-Kona restaurateur, said not only will he not accept campaign donations, he intends to donate his salary to nonprofits if he’s elected.
“I want to come in fresh and clean,” Urban said. “We don’t want to be indebted to anyone. We’ll make decisions based on what’s good for our people, not special interests.”
Fitzgerald’s major contribution so far is $1,000 from a Los Angeles attorney who’s a good friend from high school. His major expenditure so far is advertising on a Honolulu TV station.
Fitzgerald, a former Parks and Recreation director for the county, said he had a lot of commitments for donations early on, but he’s backed off asking in light of the economic downturn. He said he’s disappointed political forums may be called off and he really hates that he can’t go door-to-door.
“I think my specialty is for people to meet me and feel my commitment to this island,” Fitzgerald said. “I haven’t been good at asking for money because this is from my heart and if people give, they give.”
Ruggles, a Mountain View resident and longtime marijuana advocate, is also chafing at trying to campaign without meeting people face to face, but he’s glad so many have jumped into the race, he said.
“We’re trying to figure out when we can get the people out there and let folks know what’s going on,” Ruggles said. “I’m hoping we’re going to be loosening restrictions soon and we can get back to some campaigning.”
Other candidates who have filed include Neil Azevedo and Wendell Kaehuaea. In addition, Daniel Cunningham, Harvey Eli, Mikey Glendon, Stacy Higa, Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder, Yumi Kawano, Abraham Sadegh and Ted Shaneyfelt have pulled nomination papers but not yet filed.
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