Two County Council members — one new and one returning — were elected by voters during Tuesday’s general election.
Heather Kimball, 48, of Papaikou claimed victory Tuesday against former longtime council member Dominic Yagong for the District 1 seat currently occupied by Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter, who is term-limited.
According to results posted just before 4 a.m. Wednesday, Kimball received 4,661 votes, or nearly 54.8% of votes after eliminating blank and “over” votes from the tally, compared to Yagong’s 3,849, or 45.2%.
Yagong and Kimball were the top vote-getters in a crowded August primary.
“It’s very exciting,” Kimball said Wednesday afternoon. “I’m grateful and honored by the support of the community. I can’t wait to get started. There’s a lot of work to do and some big challenges ahead. I’m honored with the trust the community has in me.”
In talking with voters during the campaign, Kimball said COVID-19 remains the highest priority.
That includes “protecting health and safety and making sure our response to COVID-19 is clear and sufficient (and) making sure we’re providing (personal protective equipment) to people who need it and doing adequate testing and contact tracing,” she said. “We don’t know how long COVID-19 will be with us, so we need to remain vigilant in protecting our community.”
For District 1 specifically, COVID-19 and the economic repercussions of the virus are concerns. Kimball said parts of the her district have very high unemployment rates because of the shutdown of the tourism industry.
“In addition to protecting health and safety, (we) need to look how we restart our economy in a safe way and in a way that will make us more resilient in the future,” she said.
Kimball has a master’s degree in tropical conservation biology and environmental science from the University of Hawaii at Hilo. She has lived on the Big Island for 16 years and owns a consulting firm focused on land management, carbon mitigation and climate change adaption policy.
Although Kimball previously sought state office, this was her first run for a county seat.
Kimball said she was somewhat surprised by the results.
Yagong is well known, and the COVID-19 pandemic made for a “really strange campaign season.”
Her competitor, though, “ran a really great campaign. I appreciate that we ran a clean and friendly campaign,” Kimball said.
Also on Tuesday, Puna Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder was narrowly re-elected to his District 5 council seat.
The freshman incumbent, an electrical project manager and small business owner, faced Ikaika Rodenhurst, a civil engineer and construction consultant for county and state highway projects, for the seat.
Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder received 4,352 votes, or 52.3% of votes after eliminating blank and “over” votes from the tally, while Rodenhurst received 3,975, or 47.7%.
“This race was very different than my race in 2018, and I think from the bottom of my heart I want to mahalo everyone I’ve come to know over the years for allowing me to have the opportunity to serve our district for another term,” Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said.
His priorities for his second term include maintaining services the district has now, working with the new administration and new mayor, reforming the new council and overcoming the obstacles put in place by COVID-19.
“This is going to be the priority for every member of government right now,” he said.
The councilman said the most pressing issues faced by District 5 include public safety, infrastructure and providing more employment opportunities, all of which are “ongoing struggles in Puna.”
The District 1 and District 5 contests were the only contested council races on the ballot in the general election.
Initial early election results released Tuesday evening were published too late for the Tribune-Herald’s print deadline.
Email Stephanie Salmons at firstname.lastname@example.org.