Bernard Carvalho’s confidence turned out to be well justified.
The Kaua‘i-born Carvalho, who said yesterday afternoon before polls closed that he expected “to be at the top” of primary election voting in the special election for the special mayoral vacancy, was sitting pretty when results first came rolling in and was still there at the end of the evening.
Carvalho pulled in 39.9 percent of the votes announced in the second official results, released shortly after 9 p.m., leaving him short of the threshhold to win the election outright, but making him the comfortable primary winner.
“I feel great, we didn’t get the 50 percent plus one, but the next best is being in the lead,” Carvalho said after learning of the results. “I am in total awe, I’m happy because it’s not just about me, it’s about the people who worked so hard to get me here.
Carvalho and JoAnn Yukimura, who earned the second-most votes with 29.9 percent, will square off in the general election Nov. 4.
“We’re ready to roll. We’re ready to move on to the general. We have a game plan in place and we’re going to hit the ground running starting Monday,” said campaign co-chairperson Lenny Rapozo. “We have some events coming up, we want to go out and still touch more voters. It’s all about getting out there and helping Bernard touch the people, and we’re very confident that when he does, he will win them over with his plans and expectations are for our next mayor.”
Candidates Mel Rapozo (24.3 percent) and Rolf Bieber (four percent) finished third and fourth, respectively, and were eliminated from contention. Some 17,000 votes had been counted as of press time, according to Division of Elections records.
An initial release of results covering absentee ballots and early voting came out shortly after 7 p.m. and showed Carvalho had received 41.7 percent of votes cast. Yukimura, to that point, had collected 27.6 percent and Rapozo 24.6 percent.
Carvalho shared the moment with an estimated 500 to 600 supporters and volunteers at the Kaua‘i Veterans’ Center on Kapule Highway in Lihu‘e. When the returns came in, the crowd erupted with chants of “together we can,” Carvalho’s de facto campaign slogan, while the candidate raised his arms triumphantly.
“It’s all about doing good things for the beautiful islands of Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau. We’re gonna move and make this island a beautiful place for the people who live here, for the people who visit here and for the people who decide to move here. We have to co-exist as one big island, one big family,” he said in an address to the crowd.
“I just feel so happy. … I’m just so overwhelmed,” Carvalho said. “This fits (my expectations) perfectly because it tells me, it tells us that the people of this beautiful island of Kaua‘i want something changed and believe in the direction we’re going to take this island. It’s truly going to be open. … I’m going to connect the people and outreach as best we can because it’s in the best interest of the people who live here.”
Carvalho filed papers in July but quickly built a strong base, with sign-waving supporters situated seemingly across the island.
“The magic for me is just being able to talk story with groups of people, and from there it moves,” he said. “The issues are important, but it’s more about wanting to meet and talk story. … It’s been overwhelming and rewarding. … Being able to touch people in the community and communicate with various businesses, grassroots people, and others, I feel really good and excited with the responses, and that’s what it’s all about.”
In addition to the grassroots support, Carvalho also earned a endorsement early in his campaign in the form of Annette Baptiste, widow of Mayor Bryan Baptiste, whose June passing opened the door for the special election.
“Mayor Baptiste was my friend first, we had a relationship for a long time, our families grew up together. Of course Mayor Baptiste’s family’s endorsement is at the forefront,” Carvalho said. “They came to me and said ‘you’ve got to do this.’ I’m going to commit to following through on initiatives that were unfinished, while at the same time exploring my own qualities as a leader.”
Some of Carvalho’s most fervent supporters explained how the endorsement was critical to his candidacy.
“I think a lot of voters will support him because of his connection to Mayor Baptiste and because of that endorsement,” said campaign co-chairperson Beth Tokioka. “It does play a significant role for a lot of voters, but not all voters. … That will be a factor for the people who very much supported Mayor Baptiste, and very much feel that they want to see some of Mayor Baptiste continue on these next two years.”
“Everybody thinks because he worked for Mayor Baptiste, the people just will follow. That’s not true. Just like any other campaign, we have to go out and get the voters,” Rapozo agreed. “He’s going to carry on Bryan’s legacy, but he has a lot that he wants to accomplish.”
The endorsement paved the way for a major advantage in fundraising. According to election records, Carvalho raised more than $100,000 in donations from individuals and businesses as of Sept. 5. Yukimura had raised just under $60,000 by that date, and Rapozo had raised a little over $56,000.
Large chunks of that $100,000 came from fellow county officials, some of whom worked with Carvalho during his tenure with the Parks and Recreation Department.
“I think that those are the people that have seen him work over the years, and really believe that he has what it takes to be a good leader, be a good mayor, and make things happen,” said Tokioka, who is also the Director of the Office of Economic Development. “I know, myself, having worked with him the last six years, I see how he has a real gift to take a project, and even if there are a lot of players and it’s a difficult, unwieldy project, he finds a way to keep people on the same page and keep the conversation going until he can get it to completion.”
Those additional funds allowed to press his advantage with media advertisements, signs, t-shirts, campaign events and other ways of raising his candidacy’s profile.