HILO — Going into the primary election that took place a week ago, Harry Kim had only one endorsement for his bid to regain the mayor’s office, that of the Sierra Club.
He gained a second nod early Friday evening, and a significant one, at that — County Council Chairman Dominic Yagong, who came in third in the nonpartisan mayoral primary with 19.5 percent of the vote.
The 72-year-old Kim, who was mayor from 2000 to 2008, will face incumbent Mayor Billy Kenoi in a runoff election in the Nov. 6 general election. Kenoi garnered the most votes in the primary, 42.5 percent, while Kim, Kenoi’s former boss, was the runner-up with 34 percent.
Yagong announced his “unsolicited endorsement” for Kim in an email, stating that Kim “brings an honest and open approach to the governmental process, and he listens to all sides of a discussion.” He wrote that Kim’s “exemplary public service over the years has earned him the respect and trust of the people.”
“I’ve worked under three mayors. Most of the time, it’s either my way or the highway with different administrations,” Yagong said in a later phone interview. “With Harry, although we may disagree, he’s always been one who has been open and has even come to me to have an open and frank discussion about an issue. That’s something that I’ve always appreciated. That kind of approach always leads to good government.”
Reached at home after a day of political sign-waving, Kim thanked Yagong for his endorsement and his “beautiful words.”
“It’s a very good feeling that Mr. Yagong has endorsed me,” Kim said. “Of course, it’s gonna help.”
Kim had expressed disappointment on primary election night that Kenoi had outdistanced him by more than 8 percentage points, but said Friday his disappointment was “very short-lived.”
“I went right back to work Sunday after a very fatiguing day and night,” he said.
Yagong noted in his email that he had been “equally critical of both Kenoi and Kim leading up to the primary elections as no one candidate (including myself) is perfect.”
Yagong had criticized Kim’s negotiation with Wheelabrator Technologies for a waste-to-energy plant, saying before the election that he was able to get the company to cut $10 million off the $125 million price the Kim administration had negotiated in a single conversation.
“Although we were on different sides of that issue, he (Kim) did not at any time try to handcuff the council in going out to the public to discuss that issue throughout the island,” Yagong said. “Although we may not agree on certain issues, he brings a very open dialogue to the discussion, and I think that is something that is extremely rare.”
Yagong said he stands behind his earlier description of some of Kenoi’s statements concerning hauling trash from Hilo to Kona and deferring payments to the GASB 45 fund for future retirees as “misleading and even outright lies.”
He said Kim and Kenoi are both “good individuals that want to do the best job, but when I weigh both of them, I support Mayor Kim.”
Asked about his future plans, Yagong, who resigned from his job as district manager of Food Pantry in March, said he’s focused on supporting his daughter, Chelsea, in her run against Valerie Poindexter for the council seat the elder Yagong has held for 12 of the past 16 years.
“I’m certainly happy that I have the time to do that,” he said.
Kenoi outspent Kim and Yagong by a 16-to-1 ratio going into the primary. State Campaign Spending Commission reports indicate that Kenoi spent $474,302 as of July 27, while Yagong had spent $25,169 and Kim — who did not accept campaign contributions larger than $10 — had spent $3,563.
“Truthfully, the amount of resources Mayor Kenoi has is very, very tremendous as far as financial resources and personnel and all that,” Kim said. “I do know I have a lot of support out there. I’ve had a lot of people come forth since the primary and say they want to help. … I joke about the Lone Ranger and Tonto, but I’ve come to realize that if I’m serious about this, and clearly I am, I have to call out the cavalry, and I think I will.”
Kenoi did not return an early Friday evening call to his cell phone seeking comment by press time.