Mayoral candidates face off at forum

Mayoral candidate JoAnn Yukimura pounced on her opponent in her opening and closing remarks yesterday morning during the final political forum hosted by the Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce in Nawiliwili.

But Bernard Carvalho fired sharp retorts before the crowd of some 30 residents and KQNG radio listeners.

The two candidates have 11 days before voters head to the polls to decide who will manage the county’s $157 million operating budget for the remaining two years left on the late Mayor Bryan Baptiste’s term.

With pretty much parallel platforms, Yukimura is working to distinguish herself as a politically seasoned veteran with a vision while Carvalho drives home his image as a leader who can pull the island together.

Carvalho, 46, of Kapa‘a, is on a leave of absence from his post as county Parks and Recreation director while he runs his campaign. The former Miami Dolphins professional football player has been a county employee since 1985, including five years as director of the Offices of Community Assistance under the Baptiste administration.

Yukimura, of Lihu‘e, was a community organizer working to control growth and protect public access before being elected to the Kaua‘i County Council in 1976. The 58-year-old is currently finishing her 14th year on the legislative body, but also served as mayor for six years including the period when Hurricane ‘Iniki hit in 1992.

In her opening comments, Yukimura took aim at a statement Carvalho made at The Garden Island-hosted debate last week. She said being mayor is “not about taking turns.”

“Kaua‘i cannot afford to stand still anymore,” she said. “Saying the right thing is different than getting the job done.”

Carvalho responded, saying he would lead the county through an “economic tsunami” that has brought higher gas prices and soaring electricity costs.

“It simply cannot be business as usual,” he said. “I stand ready to lead.”

Both candidates were born and raised here and share a profound love for the Garden Isle.

As they responded to a list of questions submitted by chamber members, both agreed curbside recycling is necessary, sustainability is critical, a healthy tourism industry is key, agriculture must be stimulated, customer service must be improved, the permitting process needs to be expedited, traffic needs to be ameliorated, Hawaii Superferry should return if negative impacts are mitigated and the aloha spirit must be preserved.

Few specifics on how they would implement effective solutions were offered in the forum, which allowed three-minute responses and two-minute rebuttals.

“The difference is the track records,” Yukimura said, adding that her opponent, while very experienced in Parks and Recreation, only started talking about most of these issues while running for mayor.

She tied Carvalho to the Baptiste administration, which she said was prepared to accept a $25,000 per-unit in-lieu fee from Kaua‘i Lagoons to meet its affordable housing requirement. Instead, she said a unanimous council said “no” and now 82 affordable housing units are being built next to Kintaro Restaurant.

“If you want business as usual in the county, vote for my opponent,” Yukimura said.

“Interesting,” Carvalho said, before launching into closing remarks about Yukimura’s record.

“My opponent’s record also speaks for itself,” he said, noting that she has been an elected official for decades “helping to create the status quo.”

“Two years after ‘Iniki hit … people chose not to reelect her,” Carvalho added.

Yukimura said a two-year term is too short to restructure the administration in any major way if she is elected. She said she would create a “super team” of able administrators.

Similarly, Carvalho said he would surround himself “with the best possible team” of individuals who share his vision.

Both said they would evaluate current staff and underscored that the “rank and file” would not lose their jobs.

“The changes would come, if at all, in the cabinet area,” Yukimura said.

When asked how they would cut costs, Carvalho said he would forgo the mayor’s $6,000 auto allowance, cancel pay raises for department heads, limit Mainland and inter-island travel and reduce energy consumption.

Yukimura said she would tighten operations by trimming travel expenses, cutting energy costs and investing in “good legal services” to prevent pricey lawsuits.

Out of 17,941 ballots cast in the September primary election, Carvalho won 7,144 votes to Yukimura’s 5,324. Turnout is expected to be higher Nov. 4, but the effect remains to be seen.

Both are continuing to vie for third place mayoral candidate finisher Mel Rapozo’s endorsement. He said this week that discussions are ongoing.

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