LIHU’E – “Oh, they went crazy,” Mayor-elect Bryan Baptiste said of the reaction of the crowd at his election night party held at the Lihue Neighborhood Center when the first printout results showed he was ahead of Councilman Ron Kouchi.
Baptiste said voter turnout was important in the election. He said between his campaign and that of former Maui Mayor Linda Lingle, the two camps had poll watchers at every voting location from Kekaha to Hanalei, and were calling those who did not vote in the morning, to make sure they planned to vote in the afternoon.
Baptiste’s campaign also offered rides to between 40 and 50 voters who needed a ride to the polls.
Baptiste said his campaign was also counting on the independence of Councilmember Randal Valenciano’s voters in the election. Valenciano took about 20 percent of the votes in the mayoral primary election.
“People just don’t blindly follow a candidate’s endorsement,” he said of Valenciano’s endorsement of Kouchi following the September election.
The final results showed Baptiste had downed Kouchi by 1,657 votes, 12,174 to 10,517.
There was a certain uneasiness at the Ron Kouchi camp last night when the absentee-ballot results showed him trailing by 137 votes shortly after the polls closed.
Kouchi, chair of the County Council, said there was a hush, as supporters calculated the difference separating him and Council Vice Chair Bryan Baptiste, followed by a collective sigh when Kouchi supporters understood that they still had the opportunity to win, and realized they would be at the Kukui Grove Park and Pavilion for some time while awaiting the final results.
When the second reading came out, showing Baptiste with nearly the same lead, over 1,600 votes, Kouchi left his party to congratulate Baptiste at his.
“The most important thing is to continue working for the best future for Kaua’i,” said Kouchi, who said he is looking forward to being out of elected office, something he hasn’t felt for two decades.
“I don’t know what it will feel like out of public office,” said Kouchi, who hasn’t really thought much about professional options.
Back at Kukui Grove, Kouchi addressed the gathering after the second printout was announced, telling the crowd he was proud of his volunteers for running a clean campaign.
The Baptiste campaign, Kouchi said, did an “excellent job.”
“Well, it feels great,” said Baptiste, admitting late last night that the adrenaline was starting to wear off.
“I think I’m happier for my supporters than I am for myself,” said Baptiste, adding his thanks to the voters of Kaua’i for their show of confidence at the polls.
Echoing themes stated repeatedly during the campaign, Baptiste promised honesty and integrity in the mayor’s office, putting people first, and listening to them.
“Be part of the solution,” he challenged the citizens of Kaua’i. “Ladies and gentlemen, you are going to make the difference.”
His plans for today included thanking supporters from a roadside area, then getting busy with the chore of forming a cabinet, with just 26 days before his inauguration.
“Nobody (was) pre-selected” for any of his appointed positions, but anyone interested needs at least one thing that can’t really be written on a rsum: “They have to come with the heart,” ready to give more than they’ve ever given, 200 percent every day for the people of Kaua’i, he added.
He also praised volunteers of both mayoral candidates for the clean campaign, and said he and Kouchi worked together on the council for the good of the people of Kaua’i.
Councilmember-elect JoAnn Yukimura dropped by Baptiste’s party to congratulate the mayor-elect, and Baptiste welcomed the chance to form a partnership.
“Let’s talk story,” he told her.
Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:email@example.com or 245-3681 (ext. 224).