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Special coverage of the 2020 general election airs and streams on Hawaii Public Radio beginning Tuesday, Nov. 3, at 2 p.m. Hear NPR analysis and local insights into the results and the aftermath airing on HPR-1 and streaming on and our mobile app.

Mayoral Candidates Differentiate Themselves on Pandemic Priorities, Leadership Style

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Hawaiʻi Public Radio
2020 marks Hawaii's first-ever election conducted entirely by mail. All registered voters statewide were mailed ballots starting the first week of October..

Both Keith Amemiya and Rick Blangiardi say their top priority would be guiding Hawaii’s most populous island out of the COVID-19 pandemic, but they have different approaches for doing so.

That was in contrast to voters reached by HPR, who cited issues like rail, climate change adaptation, alternatives to driving, economic diversification, and a better safety net for working families as their top priorities for this election.

In a phone interview, Amemiya said he is most concerned with managing the City and County of Honolulu's public health response to the pandemic.

“We need to continue to ensure that Oahu is COVID safe, that the spread is contained. That involves a lot of testing, contact tracing, and quarantine slash isolating. We need to still consult with healthcare professionals,” Amemiya said.

“We must base our decisions on science and data,” he added. “Before you can reopen the economy, you need to have a healthy community, so we need to address the health and safety of our communities first.”

In contrast, Blangiardi said that his main focus will be addressing the economic fallout of the pandemic, to include working to reopen shuttered businesses.

“Anything and everything we can do with respect to mitigating people losing their jobs, losing their homes, maybe even leaving here. That’s very disruptive to our community, very disruptive to families” Blangiardi said.

“So I think that anything and everything we can do to get money into people’s hands, getting more money from the federal government,” he added. "Anything we can do to stop that kind of pain, suffering, and anxiety."

The two candidates share similar positions on many issues, including opposition to reducing funding for the Honolulu Police Department and compassionate release of some incarcerated prisoners during the pandemic.

Neither has previously held elected office, and thus there are no voting or legislative  records by which to assess them.  

When asked what sets them apart from their opponent, both candidates focused on managerial ability and leadership experience.

Amemiya, who worked in the insurance industry and was head of Oahu’s high school sports association, cited his leadership style as a strength.

“I’ve always prided myself on being a collaborator who brings people together to solve complex problems,” Amemiya said.

“On the other hand, my opponent has been in the private sector his entire career. His style tends to be a top down, take it or leave it style. Running the city is much more complicated than running a news station,” he said in referencing Blangiardi’s career in television broadcasting.

“Running the city government involves so many different constituencies. You cannot employ a top down style of leadership,” Amemiya concluded.

Blangiardi, who spent decades as an executive at various television broadcasters, including most recently Hawaii News Now, said that private sector management experience is his greatest asset.

“The work that I have done throughout my career has always been in the senior management position. I’ve always been in that alpha role,” he noted.

“When you’re the senior guy, versus the number two, or the number three, or just some lawyer at an insurance company some place, at the end of the day the accountability is on your shoulders and you live with that,” making reference to Amemiya’s time in the insurance industry.

“Every job I’ve ever been hired for was a turnaround job to replace the guy that was fired. Keith has never had that kind of professional experience,” Blangiardi said, directly critiquing his opponent.

Mail ballots for the election began going out to Oahu voters last week. Completed ballots need to be received by the city clerk or deposited in an approved drop box by November 3rd.

Find more information on same-day registration, in-person voting centers, and deposit box locations here.

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