Fukushima running for mayor

LIHU’E — Rather than talk about what current Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste hasn’t done during his four years as mayor, former Kaua’i County Councilmember Jesse Fukushima of Kapa’a would rather talk about what he would bring to the position, he said.

Fukushima, 55, who served on the council from 1981 to 1996, officially announced yesterday his intent to run for mayor. He hoped to file his papers for candidacy yesterday, but found out no filing can happen until next month.

As mayor, he’d work with state elected officials to get traffic-relief initiatives in place (“You just gotta lobby”), work to make affordable housing truly affordable for young Kaua’i families (“Can an up-and-coming family afford an affordable home? No.”), and work on the administrative end of real-property taxes (the assessment side) to provide real-property-tax relief for residents, he said.

Fukushima, who resurfaced in the news as a vocal opponent of a proposed residential-drug-treatment facility near his home in Kapa’a a few years ago, acknowledged the island has a drug problem, and treatment options are needed.

“There is a drug problem on the island, and there are monies available out there for treatment,” said Fukushima, who helped neighbors get county permits necessary to establish a drug-treatment facility in Kapa’a denied before members of the Kaua’i Planning Commission.

Security, infrastructure and traffic were concerns of his and his neighbors, he said. “You can’t just force a treatment facility on people. You have to listen to them.”

Fukushima worked with state lawmakers, mainly state Rep. Hermina “Mina” Morita, D-Hanalei-Kapa’a, to get a law passed prohibiting establishment of residential-drug-treatment facilities in residential areas.

His opposition to the Kapa’a facility “had nothing to do with politics. It had to do with people,” he said.

“We were worried. We were very worried up there.”

Fukushima, a card-carrying Democrat in a nonpartisan race who said he got off the council in order to devote more time to his young children and his wife Suzanne, said his children are all grown, and a conscious decision was made not only to get back into politics, but to run for mayor instead of council again.

“Kids all grown, it’s time to go,” he said with a smile. He has four children and three grandchildren.

Don’t expect Fukushima to raise and spend the amounts of money others have spent in recent mayoral campaigns, he said. Challengers have raised and spent over $200,000 in previous Kaua’i mayoral elections.

“I’m going to be out there campaigning,” running a “strong, grassroots campaign,” with lots of door-to-door canvassing.

“We realize we, I, gotta work hard,” adding that he understands that a significant number of Kaua’i voters have never heard of him.

“Pretty much, we are a new candidate. This is where the grassroots campaign is so important,” in order to once again make “Fukushima” a household name, he said.

“Kaua’i’s (still) a small island,” but “10 years has been a long time. It was very good to step away from it,” said Fukushima, a licensed landscape contractor who recently put that license on inactive status in order to concentrate on the campaign. Patting his legs, he says, “These legs are going to do a lot of walking.”

He plans at least one fund-raiser in the first quarter of this year, will open a campaign headquarters, and has a Web site under construction, www.electjesse.com.

There will be no mudslinging from the Fukushima camp, he said. “I think every candidate, including myself, wants a clean campaign,” and he’ll concentrate on programs he’d like to pursue.

But, he also said he would like to engage Baptiste in a debate on the pressing issues of the island.

Fukushima said he supported the Ohana Kauai real-property-tax-capping charter amendment “in principal,” though he understood it would stand at odds with other portions of the existing charter.

He appreciates the fact that “it was the people saying ‘we need real-property-tax remedies.'”

On the current squabbles involving the Kaua’i Police Department, Fukushima said he has heard “bits and pieces” of the problems. “As a leader, as a mayor, I would not have let this thing drag down this far,” he said.

Asked why he thinks he is qualified to be mayor, he said, “Any candidate, why do they run? We all care. We run because we care,” and the voters decide which is the best candidate. “I’d like to give the people the opportunity, a choice,” he said.

Retired Kaua’i Fire Department firefighter Dan Brown is his campaign chair, and Diana Marshman is his campaign treasurer.

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