LIHU’E — Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste wants an encore.
Baptiste announced plans Tuesday night to seek another, four-year term as mayor in 2006.
In the past three years, Baptiste has championed the building of more affordable housing, put together programs with community-member support to fight drug use, supported legislation to protect public access, and backed programs to prepare youths for future careers, he said.
Baptiste made his announcement during the celebration of his 50th birthday at the Kauai Veteran’s Center in Lihu’e. The gathering was sponsored by folks supporting Baptiste’s second run for mayor, and was attended by several hundred supporters.
“We have much to celebrate, but there is so much left to do,” Baptiste said. “Let’s make a bold statement that we need no less than four years to make our shared dreams a reality.”
At the gathering, Baptiste said he wants to win another four-year term because “I want to continue to make a difference for the people of Kaua’i.”
If there is one thing he has learned in his nearly three years in office, reaching goals doesn’t come quickly or easily, Baptiste said.
Should he be re-elected, he said he wants to work with Gov. Linda Lingle and state Department of Transportation Highways Division leaders to greatly relieve traffic congestion “along the Kapa’a corridor” and on Kaumuali’i Highway from West Kaua’i and Maluhia Road to Lihu’e.
“I like to see that (finding a solution to traffic jams) through fruition,” Baptiste said. “We keep pushing and pushing each and every month.”
Baptiste said he is happy with the progress his administration has made so far on a wide range of county issues, and that the progress has been made in part because of the enthusiasm and support of his staff, county workers and residents who support his philosophical goals.
“We are surrounded by a lot of good people,” he said. “I think when you see at the end of four years, you won’t have seen as much progress by any other administration.”
Baptiste was elected to the mayor’s office in 2002, after serving on the Kaua’i County Council, and is wrapping up the third year of his first, four-year term as mayor.
If he wins in the 2006 election, Baptiste will serve his second and final four-year term.
The Kaua’i County Charter sets a two, four-term limit for the mayor’s office.
Tommy Contrades, a well-known Kaua’i labor union official with the International Long-shore and Warehouse Union, was introduced to the crowd as Baptiste’s campaign co-chair. The other co-chairperson will be named later.
Only Jesse Fukushima, a former member of the Kaua’i County Council, has publicly announced intentions to run against Baptiste.
Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura, who was mayor of Kaua’i from 1988 to 1994, has publicly stated she will not mount another mayoral challenge if Baptiste seeks reelection.
Baptiste’s speech at his gathering focused on residents accepting kuleana (responsibility) for the future of their island.
Baptiste said kuleana is about taking on tough challenges and tackling them head on, citing drug use, homelessness, affordable housing, and public access as four major issues facing Kaua’i today.
Providing excellence in public service and continually seeking ways to improve the quality of life for residents also are important, Baptiste said.
Among the list of projects scheduled for implementation within the next year include permit tracking online, the ability to make credit-card payments for government services through the Internet, and expanding county bus services, Baptiste said.
In his first three years in office, Baptiste has worked with residents in developing a four-phase, drug-response plan to curb the use of drugs, in particular, crystal methamphetamine, and alcohol, he said.
Related to drug-rehabilitation efforts, Baptiste’s administration has won approval to build the island’s first adolescent residential drug-abuse-treatment center at the site of the old Kauai Humane Society building in Hanapepe.
Efforts have gotten under way to build the first shelter for the homeless in Lihu’e during Baptiste’s tenure, he commented. The project is to be built next to the headquarters of Kauai Economic Opportunity Inc.
On the issue of affordable housing, Baptiste has worked with land developers and non-profit groups to facilitate the building of 700 affordable-housing units over the next two years.
In addition, Baptiste launched the Mana’olana project to build another 575 affordable housing units on state lands, he said.
Baptiste has asked Lingle to sign over 127 acres to the county through executive orders, in order to facilitate the building of new homes for low-to-moderate-income residents.
To help residents into affordable-housing units, his administration also set up an affordable home-buyer registration list, he continued.
One key focus is to give back residents hope that they can afford to buy a home one day, whether it be a condominium or a single-family home, he added.
Another focus of the program is to put residents through classes so they can be “buyer-ready” when home-purchase opportunities arise, said Baptiste.
To provide more recreational benefits for East Kauai, boasting the largest population on the island, Baptiste has advanced his plans to build all segments of a 16-mile coastal bicycle and pedestrian pathway from Nawiliwili to Anahola with more than $30 million in federal funds.
The project has drawn flak from some residents who say the funds should be used to build either more roads or to buy more buses, as a way to bring concrete traffic relief.
County officials said it is their understanding at this point that the funds can only be used for the bicycle and pedestrian project.
The pathway has been viewed as a way to encourage more folks to get out of their vehicles and to commute to and from work on bicycles.
Baptiste is concerned about folks who have bought large acreage and have put up fences to protect their privacy and to prevent trespassing, he said.
Those folks are in their legal right to do so, he agrees, but he has put forward county legislation to protect lateral access in new residential subdivision and coastline resorts, all with the intent of protecting public access.
Baptiste likes people to interact with one another, and has proposed legislation that would prohibit “gated communities.” The idea, however, has come under attack by some as being unconstitutional.
Baptiste has said a top priority of his has been to ensure a bright future for Kaua’i’s children.
Baptiste has been credited with the launching of two initiatives, Team Tech and Team Health.
Both projects involve businesses around the island developing partnerships with schools, and giving youths a glimpse into the high-tech or health and wellness careers on their home island, Kaua’i.
Born and raised on Kaua’i and a graduate of Kapa’a High School and the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, Baptiste began his political career in 1996, when he was elected to the council for the first of three, consecutive, two-year terms.
From 1994 to 1996, Baptiste worked as an appointee of Mayor Maryanne Kusaka, launching the Ho’olokahi volunteer-beautification program, which continues to provide grants and support to community groups doing county-park enhancement and improvement work, and doing much of the initial legwork leading to the creation of the Lihu’e gateway beautification project.
Prior to his work with the county, Baptiste was a small businessman on Kaua’i.
He resides in Wailua Houselots, with his wife, Annette, and three of their four children.
Fukushima is the only announced competitor for Baptiste’s job right now. The primary election is less than 11 months away.
Fukushima, 55, of Kapa’a, left politics to spend more time with children. Now that they are in college, Fukushima said he wants to return to public office to serve island residents.
Long-time residents remembered that Fukushima helped support the island’s recovery after Hurricane ‘Iwa in 1982.
The hurricane caused $60 million in damage to the island. In response, Fukushima supported the creation of the Kauai Visitors Promotion committee, whose members brought forth solutions and developed programs for the recovery of the island and the revitalization of Kaua’i’s tourist trade at the time.
Following Hurricane ‘Iniki in 1992, Fukushima chaired a council subcommittee that brainstormed with county officials and representatives of private businesses on how to expedite the rebuilding of thousands of damaged homes.
County officials viewed the rebuilding of the homes as the first step toward rebuilding the island.
- Lester Chang, staff writer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or firstname.lastname@example.org