Sit-Down With Candidates For Honolulu Mayor: Colleen Hanabusa

Mar 11, 2020

Voters on Oahu will elect a new mayor in 2020. HPR will be sitting down with mayoral hopefuls to discuss their top concerns and why they want the job.


Colleen Hanabusa spent six years as a member of Congress representing Urban Honolulu and 12 years in the state Senate representing Waianae. For three of those years, she served as Senate president. 

Hanabusa lost a bid for governor in 2018 and is now seeking the top job in the City and County of Honolulu. She says that long connection with Oahu voters demonstrates they trust her to solve the big problems facing Hawaii’s largest city.

“What we need to do is restore public confidence. We need to have people feel that they matter,” Hanabusa said when asked why she wants to be mayor.

“The belief in government and the confidence in government is probably the most important starting point for everyone who wants this job, because people have got to believe that you're going to move the city in the direction that they want,” she added.

Hanabusa specifically cites her experience with the city’s $9 billion rail project as an area in which she is uniquely suited for the mayor’s office.

She previously served as chair of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit’s board of directors and says she is intimately familiar with the technical challenges that have led to delays and cost overruns.

But Hanabusa also has big picture ideas about the project.

“I think rail represents the lifestyle for the generations to come. It's a lifestyle issue.  I tell people rail is for the generations to come. But what we need to do as government is we need to have asked the fundamental question: ‘How do you want to live?'” Hanabusa says, noting her experience living in a transit-oriented development while in Washington, D.C.

She adds that the rail project is much larger in scope than just alleviating traffic.

“This is the way people are going to live and we need to invest in the future for the next generation.”

Despite losing a 2018 gubernatorial primary challenge to incumbent David Ige, Hanabusa thinks Honolulu voters will be drawn to her experience in Congress, which she says touches city government in everything from corruption investigations to climate change.

“They're [voters] going to want that person who has that experience. You can't talk about rail without talking about the federal level. You can't talk about climate change without talking about the rules that the federal government will play. You can't talk about the economic stability of this island without recognizing the role that the federal government and the military [play].”

In a year where Washington experience has not always been rewarded by voters in national races, Hanabusa thinks it will make the difference for her.

“I think the voters are going…to want somebody who they know has that experience and is not going to be learning on the job,” she said. 

HPR will be sitting down with other contenders for Honolulu mayor as the election approaches.