LIHUE — The Kauai Board of Realtors’ annual trade show attracted more than 100 Realtors, nearly 40 exhibitors, and the county’s three mayoral candidates.
Derek Kawakami, Lenny Rapozo and Mel Rapozo mingled with attendees at the Christmas party setting before taking the stage Thursday at in the Kauai Marriott Resort and Beach Club.
“I’m not necessarily a new kid on the block, but I am one of the younger candidates,” Kawakami said. “I do have what I feel is a wealth of experience that I can bring to this county, to this island.”
He related his experience on KIUC’s board of directors in 2006 as strategic planning chair, setting goals for utilizing 50 percent renewable energy. Since then, he’s served on the county council, as president of Hawaii State Association of Counties, as representative in the Legislature, as chairman for Community Economic Development and Business, and as current county councilman.
“Economic development has always been a passion of mine and my focus has always been on job creation and economic development,” he said. “I’ve been able to bring back some tangible lists together as far as capital improvement projects, improving our schools, improving our roads and our highways.”
In the private sector, he said his family owned and operated Big Save for generations and he oversaw five convenient stores, two Shell gas stations, five Subway restaurants and two gift shops.
“I understand how challenging it is to develop businesses in Kauai,” Kawakami said. “I really feel that the government’s role is to create economies and to invest in infrastructure because that infrastructure investment is what’s going to carry us through some of the slow times.”
Lenny Rapozo, 52, was born and raised on Kauai. He received his bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in economics, then worked 20 years with the Department of Public Safety and almost 10 years with Parks and Recreation.
“I’ve been through the system and I believe it is my time to lead,” Lenny Rapozo said. “I have the experience and knowledge to do what we need to do to get these projects to move forward.”
He said he plans to focus on issues like the landfill, traffic and economy, as well as creating recreational opportunities, building youth programs and completing Ke Ala Hele Makalae.
“We need someone who has passion and someone that can take the lead and be the champion to get these people in better places for our community,” Lenny Rapozo said. “Anything that we need takes a partnership, and I want to continue to build these bridges so that we can succeed.”
Mel Rapozo, 53, began his county work as a police officer in 1985 and served the county in various positions ever since.
“Whether it’s housing or traffic or roads or homelessness or whatever, I don’t think there’s going to be an argument for what’s important, it’s how do we fix it,” he said.
“When I sit down and decide who’s going to be in my cabinet, I promise you I will elect the best,” Mel Rapozo added. “It’s a matter of putting the right team together and that’s what’s going to make things change.”
Mel Rapozo noted that he was the only council member against raising the general excise tax to fund public transportation improvements at Wednesday’s council meeting.
“I’m not the guy you see on TV on Wednesdays, the grumpy old man that is a grouch,” Mel Rapozo said. “My challenge in this campaign is making you guys find out the real Mel.”
“It’s going to be a great run,” he added. “I think it’s going to a fun race, fun campaign, and may the best man win.”
Attendees applauded the candidates and welcomed Ed MacDowell as new president to the Kauai Board of Realtors.
“The real estate community is enjoying themselves, meeting people they haven’t seen for a long time, getting to know the faces that they deal with all the time,” said Wil Welsh, principal broker for Wai’oli Properties. “Mostly this is a Christmas party with a little bit of a business edge to it.”
“As for the mayor candidates, Kawakami is very articulate, Mel is somewhat conservative, and I don’t know too much about Lenny,” Welsh said.
For most, it was a social event and fun luncheon to start the holiday season.
“Realtors are involved in more than just buying and selling real estate, we’re involved in the actual community,” said Karen Ono, executive officer for the Kauai Board of Realtors, “with our College is Possible financial aid program that we held with our open houses, so the public can see what Realtors do, with our landlord summit that we held for landlords specifically with the County Housing Agency.”