Mayor Billy Kenoi celebrates with his wife, Takako at his campaign headquarters in Keaukaha after narrowly winning the mayoral race Tuesday night. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)
HILO — Mayor Billy Kenoi will serve another four years, after slapping away a spirited challenge from his old boss, former Mayor Harry Kim.
Kenoi, powered by his “Together We Can” campaign message, an endorsement from U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye and more than $650,000 in contributions, garnered 31,433 votes Tuesday, or 51. percent of all votes cast, to Kim’s 29,976 votes.
Kenoi told supporters, “We are seeing this as an opportunity to work hard … an opportunity to make our island the most beautiful place in the world.”
By contrast, Kim’s campaign was a low-budget, low-key approach with a grass-roots band of followers. While fiercely loyal, they failed to reach the critical mass needed to defeat the charismatic Kenoi.
Even before all the votes were cast, Kenoi, 43, was in his element at Monday evening’s state Democratic Party Grand Rally, confident in his approach as he got the audience chanting, “four more years!” first for President Obama, then equally successfully, for himself.
Kim, 72, following Kenoi to the lectern, kept his comments brief. While constituents generally remember fondly the Kim years, first as the voice of Civil Defense on the radio and then as mayor during economic good times, some have become vocal in their concerns over his age and his health.
Having survived two heart attacks shortly after his last mayoral term, Kim has reiterated his health is fine, and he’s repeatedly said he’s up for the job.
Kim said he’s been gratified by the wellspring of support.
“Good people, warm people,” Kim summed up his supporters when the first printout showed Kenoi’s early advantage. “You just feel for them. It’s very similar to being a coach in a football game. You don’t feel for yourself; you feel for them.”
Kenoi had campaigned four years ago on giving West Hawaii equal time, and he lived up to that promise by stationing half his cabinet there.
He also oversaw the successful completion of the West Hawaii Civic Center, a project begun under Kim’s tenure.
The long-sought midlevel road, Ane Keohokalole Highway, was also fast-tracked under Kenoi’s tenure, thanks to $30.5 million in federal stimulus funding. He also sought and secured $1.2 million in federal money for new buses.
Kenoi added $34,500 to his campaign coffers in the latest report filed Monday with the state, bringing his total war chest to $652,176.
Kim, in contrast, raised $18,666 during his entire campaign, of which $9,000 was his own money. Kim imposed a $10 limit on donations as he did in two successful mayoral bids.