Mayor Baptiste dies

Cardiac arrest claims 52-year-old’s life as he was home recovering from bypass surgery

by Nathan Eagle – THE GARDEN ISLAND

Kaua‘i Mayor Bryan Baptiste, 52, died yesterday after an apparent cardiac arrest at his Wailua Houselots home, county officials said.

Paramedics were called to his house on Eggerking Road and attempted to resuscitate him. He was transported to Wilcox Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead late yesterday afternoon, a county news release states.

The mayor had heart bypass surgery on June 13 at The Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu. He was released from the hospital on Friday and returned to Kaua‘i Saturday evening.

Baptiste was resting comfortably at home when the incident occurred, officials said.

“This is a big loss for Kaua‘i,” Kaua‘i County Councilman Tim Bynum said. “This is a guy who really had heart.”

Gary Heu, the mayor’s administrative assistant, is serving as mayor pro-tem and has been in contact with Kaua‘i’s elected officials and mayors statewide.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the mayor’s family. That’s our focus at this point in time,” he said. “Certainly, we’ve lost a great leader who cared dearly for this island. It was my absolute honor and privilege to work for Mayor Baptiste over the last five years.”

Heu said he will be meeting this morning with county officials to determine the appropriate course of action in accordance with the county charter on “how to proceed in the proper manner relative to the succession and the transition of the powers.”

The Republican and former county councilman was first elected mayor in 2002, when he edged rival Ron Kouchi in a runoff. Baptiste was elected to a second four-year term in 2006.

“He and I were an interesting, odd couple who got along well and always worked well together,” said Kouchi, who currently serves on the seven-member council. “None of us were prepared for this news.”

Kouchi said he and Baptiste ran respectful campaigns that allowed them to work together without any animosity after the race ended.

The mayor was known for his good sense of humor and volunteerism, officials said.

“It was just the fact that we could laugh while we went about doing our jobs, finding the humor and really not taking yourself too seriously,” said Kouchi, who worked with the mayor since the mid-1990s. “It allows you to get through some of the tougher moments that you deal with.”

Bynum said the mayor was “tireless” and “his motivations were pure.”

“His desire was to connect people with government and preserve the sense of community on Kaua‘i,” Bynum said, noting the mayor’s Ka Leo O Kaua‘i community outreach program. “To not lose that specialness was a critical thing for him. He didn’t give up on that.”

As mayor, Baptiste championed the building of more affordable housing, put together programs to fight drug abuse and supported legislation to protect public access.

Earlier this year, the mayor announced plans to revive his stalled proposal to ban gated communities.

“It creates an ‘us and them’ mentality,” he said at the time.

The mayor’s administration proposed the legislation three years ago, but legal questions hung it up.

Kouchi said Baptiste was visible in the community.

“Whether it was a sporting event, a hula deal, parade or something happening at church, he was everywhere at once,” he said.

Kouchi said his father went through similar bypass surgeries and thought the mayor’s recovery was going according to schedule.

“Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case,” he said.

Republican Gov. Linda Lingle says in a statement late Sunday that Baptiste, her “dear friend,” had been staying with her before and after his surgery on O‘ahu.

“(The mayor) was in good spirits when I took him to the airport last night at 8:30,” she says. “He was so looking forward to returning to his beloved Kaua‘i and the people he felt so privileged to serve.”

In honor of the mayor, Lingle has ordered all state flags to fly at half staff at all state and county buildings on the day of his interment.

The mayor had a “huge heart,” Bynum said.

“I’ve seen him weep when things went bad for Kaua‘i. I’ve seen him get angry when things didn’t go well,” he said. “Whether I agree with him or not, I know he loved this place deeply.”

Roughly 50 years ago, Baptiste’s father served as Kauai’s mayor.

He leaves wife Annette and four children: Brandon, Heather, Lauren and Preston.

The mayor’s family requests privacy during this difficult time, the county news release says.

“Our main focus, on a personal level, will be to assure that his wife and family are supported and, on official level, that there is continuity in our governance,” Heu said. “It is a sad day for Kaua‘i.”

• Nathan Eagle, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or neagle@kauaipubco.com

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