Kaua‘i County Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said yesterday afternoon that her bid to become the island’s next mayor has been unprecedented.
“In my 30 years of public work, I have never had to gear up for an election in such a short time,” she said. “It has been a challenge. We’ve been able to do it because people have been able to stand with me and work in a really short time frame.”
She edged out Councilman Mel Rapozo yesterday to advance to the general election on Nov. 4. Calls seeking comment were not returned by press time.
The race was fast-forwarded when the late Mayor Bryan Baptiste unexpectedly died in June. The term, which starts Dec. 1, is for the remaining two years he had in office.
“This is a very important election for Kaua‘i,” Yukimura said. “As we watch the economic business as usual assumption evaporate on the national scene, it’s very clear that we face very uncertain times — so leadership will be more critical than ever.”
The mayoral candidate has served in public office for 18 years, including multiple terms on the council and as mayor when Hurrican ‘Iniki hit in 1992.
Yukimura said she has had the foresight to launch programs such as the Kaua‘i Bus, Sunshine Markets and the transition to a utility cooperative.
“All of these things will help prepare us,” she said. “But we need to do more.”
She said her candidacy gives the people of Kaua‘i a choice of “experienced leadership that has a really deep knowledge of what we are going to have to address as an island community.”
The 58-year-old Lihu‘e resident expressed gratitude to her supporters who have put their lives on hold and her “worthy opponents” who have stepped forward for the county.
“I’m grateful to those candidates,” Yukimura said. “Running a campaign for mayor is tremendous work and requires a great commitment. By running, they’re giving people a choice.”
In addition to Rapozo, her challengers were Rolf Bieber and Bernard Carvalho, who secured the most votes in the primary by 10 percent. Bieber, a first-time candidate, earned 685 votes, or 4 percent.
“For the most part, it’s been a clean campaign, except for some of the rumors that have been spread,” Yukimura said. “I’m grateful to the people who have risen to the occasion.”
A party to watch the primary results flow in yesterday evening was held at her campaign headquarters on Umi Street in Lihu‘e.
Yukimura, who has said an election is the most important event in a democracy, said it goes beyond being a time when leadership is chosen.
“It generates a lot of discussion in workplaces, at home, at the picnic table, while drinking beer,” she said. “It generates conversations about the issues our island faces. … I’ve really appreciated the opportunity to talk about the issues.”
The candidate’s campaign has focused on a message of creating a self-sustainable island.
“While the discussion should be year-round, people are busy,” Yukimura said. “There’s not that much time for discussion about public issues that affect each of our lives dramatically. A campaign gives time for this.”
The candidate said she had faith that “people will choose wisely.”