If there’s one thing outgoing Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. wants the community to know as he leaves office, it’s that people have a responsibility to embrace their culture and never forget their roots.
“Know that everything that we’ve done, I’ve tried my best to incorporate the voices of the people into the projects and programs that we’ve started, we’ve accomplished, and I’m hoping they’re proud of that and happy with that,” he said.
After serving as Kauai and Niihau’s mayor for a decade, Carvalho will step down on Dec. 3.
“I feel good about how far we’ve come and what we’ve accomplished,” Carvalho said in an interview with The Garden Island.
It hasn’t always been easy, but Carvalho said he’s assembled a team of people who have good hearts, people who are dedicated, understanding and determined to get out into the community.
“That kind of leadership was important to me that we try as much as possible to take that emotional side of everything that we do up front and foremost and incorporate that into the decisions that we make,” Carvalho said.
Part of his administration’s success isn’t that everyone always agreed, but that his team has been able to agree to disagree and move on.
With 35 years of government service under his belt, Carvalho started out as a civil servant in the Parks and Recreation Department. From there he went to work in the county Agency on Elderly Affairs and eventually became the director of Parks and Recreation during Mayor Bryan Baptiste’s administration.
Before becoming mayor, Carvalho spent many hours engaging the community. He was the PTA president at his children’s school and a member of many coalitions, including the Coalition for a Drug Free Kauai and the Kauai Health Care Leadership Coalition.
Running for mayor was something Carvalho was considering, but when Baptiste died, his family approached him and asked him to jump into the race.
That was in June. The primary election was in August and the general election in November. He won.
Winning that first two-year term was a shock, Carvalho said.
“Then I ran again in 2010 for four years, so it was my first four-year term, and then I ran again in 2014. So here it sits, 10 years later and a whole lot of things happened, great things. I feel good about where we’re at today,” Carvalho said.
It was during his second term that Carvalho and his team formulated the Holo Holo 2020 Vision that would shape the rest of his time in office.
“It included 38 different projects, community, business, future, just a mix of things, and I took that list of projects, which really came from my experiences and my discussions within the community,” Carvalho said.
One of those projects was putting a bus shelter at every bus stop on the island, he said.
“There were no bus shelters in the community, so to me, people were sitting in the sun, the rain, whatever,” Carvalho said.
Now, there are 54 bus shelters equipped with LED lighting, he said.
“It may sound simple, but I think that’s the big thing. Obviously just part of our list of Holo Holo projects,” he said.
“Holo holo” is Hawaiian slang for journeying, trekking and visiting places, sometimes to multiple places many times.
Another source of pride for Carvalho is the transformation of Kauai into a walkable, bikeable community with complete streets and safe routes to school.
That idea arose from his upbringing during plantation days when communities were designed to have everything within easy reach.
“I took that same footprint in mind and brought it to now,” Carvalho said.
During his time as mayor, Kauai has seen some affordable housing projects take root, including on the North Shore, for kupuna in Lihue, and phase one of the Lima Ola community scheduled to break ground soon in Eleele.
His administration has also worked to improve the roads, which is something that takes time to do because it involves building relationships and coordinating with county, state and federal government and private landowners, Carvalho said.
Carvalho, a born-again Christian, said his faith has shaped how he’s run his administration.
“Faith to stay strong, hope to never give up and love unconditionally. I always talk about the top three very important parts of what I believe in,” he said. “I meet every month here with many different pastors in my office and we just talk. I’m mayor of all. I’m open to all religions.”
Throughout his decade of executive service, he has attended Kauai Interfaith Council meetings and numerous faith-based functions where he’s often invited to speak and almost always sings.
“I like it because they ask me to speak at a Hindu service or a Buddhist service and I think that kind of thinking and that solid strong foundation that I feel as far as faith you can do anything,” Carvalho said.
Under Carvalho ’s leadership, the county budget has increased each year, which for many people has been one of the more controversial items. But much of that increase was due to collective bargaining, which isn’t something he had control over, he said.
But, if there was a project he felt would benefit the community, Carvalho said he was going to fight for it.
“If it costs a little bit more, than let’s do it,” he said.
Some of those projects, such as the Kilauea agriculture park and the Philippine Cultural Center, have had a positive impact on the community.
When he steps aside in December, Carvalho said he’ll miss being in the community and working hard for Kauai, but what he’ll miss the most is working with his team.
“I’m the kind of coach, football terms now, football field, coach that kind of like assembles our team, go do what you’ve got to do, this is the vision, this is what we want to go, the goal line is over there, the field goal is unacceptable and we go, but know I’m still the coach and I’m watching,” Carvalho said.
The work must be done respectfully and with aloha, he said.
“Action aloha, action aloha. We never forget that in anything that we do and so I think that’s the bigger part in how we got things done,” Carvalho said.
He said his team poured their hearts and souls into their work.
“We’re servants of the people. You’ve gotta hear, you’ve gotta hear every single voice that comes in and how to handle that,” he said.
With no definitive plans for the future, Carvalho said he is going to focus on spending time with his wife, and his “papa” role.
“I have two grandchildren, so going to hit that more and then find the balance of what’s next,” he said.
Carvalho said he wants the next mayor, Derek Kawakami, to look at all his administration has done, own it and take it to the next level.
“All of the decisions we’re making have to be tied back to the land, the water. I think that whole program, that educational piece with honoring our moku system, that land division, that ahupuaa within that land division,” should be taken to “the next level and incorporating that into the schools,” he said.
He hopes the transition to the Kawakami administration will be easy and nearly seamless.
“Our style of leadership, we’re able to reach out and touch the people,” he said.
Whatever comes in the future, Carvalho said he is going to jump into it with love.
“When you love unconditionally anything is possible,” he said.
Bethany Freudenthal was previously The Garden Island crime, courts and county reporter.