The Hawaii County Council on Wednesday surprised Mayor Harry Kim before he leaves office next month, honoring the longtime public servant for his decades of work.
“Mayor Kim, you were actually brought here on the pretense that you were going to give a discussion on the (mayoral) transition, but we felt it was necessary to honor you … for all of your years of service,” said Council Chairman Aaron Chung before Kim was presented a maile lei.
Chung said the maile lei was significant because of a story Kim told him nearly two decades ago, after the mayor was first elected to office.
An elderly woman in Kalapana, whom he had never seen before and whom he has not seen since, presented Kim a white maile lei “during the eruption that took out Kalapana many years ago,” Chung recounted, as Kim nodded along.
“He also went on to further say, if I may share this story, he said that white maile lei, for some inexplicable reason, stayed fresh for all of the years that he was serving as Civil Defense director and … on the day that he left that office, it just kind of crumbled,” Chung continued. “So there’s something mystic going on over here. I think with Harry, I think we all know that there’s some other spiritual things afoot.”
Chung presented Kim with a certificate briefly highlighting his history and work with the county, which includes a 24-year stint as Hawaii County Civil Defense administrator, a role from which he retired in 2000.
“Later that year, Harry ran for and was elected as Hawaii County mayor,” Chung read. “During his 12 years in office, he was called upon to utilize his emergency management experience in the county’s response to several natural disasters and a never-before-seen-in-our-lifetime pandemic.”
But Kim’s publicized work on those fronts can overshadow some of his executive initiatives, Chung said, each of which carry long-term, positive implications for the Big Island.
Other council members took turns expressing their gratitude for Kim’s work.
“Harry, I just wanted to say thank you because I think during all of the years that I’ve worked in the legislative branch prior to being a council member … it was really refreshing to encounter a person who didn’t seem so … politically driven and more so spiritually and community driven as you are,” said North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff.
South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David said she was touched by the story about the white maile lei.
“I really believe that in your tenure as mayor, because of your close association and love of the Native Hawaiian community and culture, I believe that is what basically drove you in respecting the culture of this island, the people of this island and the diverse nature of the people that make up this island,” she said.
Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas said during her childhood in West Hawaii, the decisions Kim made and collaborative projects he worked on “directly influenced me in positive ways.”
“In my youth, you were the first local political figure that I felt a connection to and a hope and a sense of real connectivity for what could happen islandwide,” she said. “And your voice will forever be a part of all our lives as our Civil Defense leader and a voice of calm, compassion, direction.”
“Mayor, you have been a fixture throughout my entire life, being that voice of reassurance and guiding us through many disasters and many tough times here,” said Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz, who added that she grew to appreciate and admire his “humble servant leadership” while interning in his office as a high school student.
“I know we haven’t seen eye-to-eye on some issues, but I appreciate your hard work and dedication and your taking the time to listen and to explain and to find common ground,” she said. “I think that’s really important, especially today.”
Kim thanked the council — and the community he’s served for so long.
“I want to thank the people of Hawaii for the pleasure, the honor and the privilege of working for you,” he said. “Thank you.”
Email Stephanie Salmons at firstname.lastname@example.org.