Asing appointed interim mayor

Yukimura, Rapozo announce mayoral campaigns

by Nathan Eagle – THE GARDEN ISLAND

The Kaua‘i County Council yesterday unanimously appointed its chair and most senior member, Bill “Kaipo” Asing, to serve as mayor through Dec. 1, but the unprecedented session at the Historic County Building did not stop there.

By the end of the morning, council members JoAnn Yukimura and Mel Rapozo announced their intent to run for mayor in a special election this fall.

With Councilwoman Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho running for county prosecutor, there are now three incumbents not seeking re-election this November.

The legislative body’s sole task at the special meeting was to pick one of its seven members to serve as interim mayor as the county charter mandates in case of a vacancy in office.

Mayor Bryan Baptiste, 52, died June 22 at Wilcox Memorial Hospital after suffering cardiac arrest at his Wailua home where he was recovering from heart bypass surgery.

County officials allowed a two-week grieving period, which concluded with a ceremony attended by hundreds of residents on Sunday, before moving forward in the mayoral succession process.

Baptiste’s administrative aide, Gary Heu, has served as acting mayor since the unexpected death.

The County Clerk’s Office yesterday issued a proclamation for a special mayoral vacancy election. The special nonpartisan election will be held in conjunction with the county’s Sept. 20 primary election and, if a second election is necessary, during the general election on Nov. 4, a county news release states.

The term of office begins Dec. 1 and will be for the final two years left in Baptiste’s second term.

Asing will assume his new role as mayor for the next five months after he resigns from the council and takes the oath of office.

The council then has 30 days to select someone to fill the resulting vacancy. If this fails to happen, the charter says the interim mayor will pick someone.

In response to a question from Councilman Jay Furfaro on when this clock starts, Deputy County Attorney Harrison Kawate said the general rule is that the vacancy is created upon resignation.

The individual picked to serve as interim mayor remains a council member until resignation. The appointed person becomes mayor after being sworn into office, Kawate said.

Asing said he has no intention of resigning from his council post before tomorrow’s council meeting.

Two council members will be absent from that meeting because they will be attending the National Association of Counties annual conference in Kansas City, Mo.

Asing said he wants to be at the council meeting to ensure there is a quorum and business can be conducted.

The charter is silent on when, or if, the appointed interim mayor must resign from the council.

There is no “black and white answer,” Asing said, adding that the timetable will be evaluated with the administration and “what is best for the community.”

Council members encouraged him to act with haste.

“We’re all here with heavy hearts wishing this was something we didn’t have to do,” Councilman Ron Kouchi said before the nomination process. “I hope whoever is picked submits that letter of resignation quickly.”

Iseri-Carvalho urged the newly appointed interim mayor to resign from the council immediately after the meeting.

Asing, who has served on the council for 24 years, was the only member nominated to serve as interim mayor.

“We will all work together for the benefit of all the people of Kaua‘i and the state of Hawai‘i,” he said after the vote. “That is my promise.”

There will be no “major changes” or “shake-up” in the administration, Asing said after the meeting. “I want people to feel comfortable. Everything that is in place will remain in place.”

As interim mayor, he said he has no plans to propose new initiatives. He said the load on the council’s plate is already “enormous,” noting pending legislation concerning gated communities, real property tax reform and agricultural subdivisions.

It is “not right and not fair” that the council should be faced with tough issues politically during an election year.

“If you want good, solid decision-making, you won’t get it in this period of time,” he said, noting how council members are unafraid to take stands and ask tough questions during non-election years.

Heu, who said he currently has no intention of running for mayor, called Asing a “practical guy.”

Heu worked for Asing for a few years at a phone company in the early 1980s. Asing later worked under Heu for a few years as a contractor for the same company after he retired.

The relationship was “pretty open,” Heu said.

Yukimura announced her intent to run for mayor in the special election at the beginning of the meeting.

She said it would be “inappropriate” to be appointed interim mayor because that person would have an unfair advantage in the race and would be unable to focus their attention on managing the county while running a campaign.

Yukimura, who was mayor during Hurricane ‘Iniki, said she supported Asing for interim mayor with the understanding that he would not be running in the special election.

“The public and everyone needs to know your intention,” she said.

But she backed down from her stance after receiving sharp criticism from other council members.

Iseri-Carvalho called Yukimura’s question “self-serving and unjust” and said the council should pick the member most qualified to serve as mayor regardless of future political aspirations.

“It’s almost like my integrity is at stake,” Asing said.

Knowing he was a front-runner for the interim mayor appointment and could seek election to that job in November, Asing said he still decided to file his nomination papers on July 1 to run one last time for a council seat.

“I feel if I got elected I would have served the community well and that was my goal,” he said. “I’m going to leave it there. You make your judgment or interpretation. I feel that is fair and that is just and I feel a little uneasy that I was put in that position of making that kind of statement to all of you here on the table and all of you in the community.”

Yukimura offered her apologies to Asing, the council and the public.

“I was trying to show that we need to follow certain guidelines and it was never my intention to call into question your integrity,” she told the chair. “And it was never my intention to try to stop you from running for any office that you desire.”

There was no discussion during the meeting on filling Asing’s council seat.

But in an interview with reporters afterward, Rapozo said Daryl Kaneshiro, a former council member who nearly won another term last election, would be an appropriate person to fill the vacancy.

Kaneshiro could not be reached for comment at press time.

There is a learning curve to serving on the council, Rapozo said, so it would make sense to have the interim member be someone with previous experience.

Rapozo, who had planned on running for mayor in 2010, said Baptiste’s death fast-forwarded his game plan.

He pulled papers after the meeting and said he will open up his campaign headquarters in Lihu‘e by the end of the month.

“I’m running in this mayor’s race to win,” said Rapozo, 43, of Lihu‘e.

Yukimura will be holding a press conference at noon, today, in the Council Chambers of the Historic County Building.

In the mayoral vacancy special election, if any candidate does not receive a majority of votes cast in the primary election, then the names of the two candidates receiving the highest number of votes will be placed on the ballot for the general election.

Nomination papers will be available and may be filed until 4:30 p.m., July 22. Because this is a special election to fill a vacancy, no signatures are required on nomination papers for candidates filing to run for this office, the release states.

Since qualified applicants will be deemed candidates once nomination papers are signed and certified, all state campaign spending and state Office of Elections candidate filing requirements must be met and all fees must be paid at the time of filing.

There have been no other formal announcements by residents interested in running for mayor, but Rapozo said it was likely that county Parks and Recreation Department Director Bernard Carvalho, Baptiste’s former campaign manager, would soon enter the race.

Carvalho did not return a call seeking comment by press time.

As of yesterday, 14 candidates have pulled nomination papers to run for council. Of those, eight have filed with the Elections Division. The two-step process is required for anyone seeking an elected position.

Kaua‘i Eco-Roundtable, a diverse group of grassroots organizations, is planning to hold a candidates forum at 5:30 p.m., Aug. 5, at the War Memorial Convention Hall.

For more information, call the Elections Division at 241-6350 or visit www.kauai.gov.

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