Kaua‘i County Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura, a seasoned politician with 20 years service in the legislative and executive branches, lost her bid for mayor yesterday to first-time candidate Bernard Carvalho.
Voters elected the former professional football player and current county Parks and Recreation Department director by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, according to the unofficial results. With all precincts reporting, Yukimura had 9,735 votes to Mayor-elect Carvalho’s 14,302.
Shortly after 9:15 p.m. with seven of 17 precincts reporting, Yukimura conceded the election to Carvalho in a speech delivered to some 150 supporters at the Lihu‘e Neighborhood Center.
“We have fought the good fight, but the people of Kaua‘i have made their choice,” she said. “I know he has the island at heart. I stand ready to support and assist Bernard in whatever he does to make Kaua‘i a better place.”
The special mayoral election was held in conjunction with the general election to fill the vacancy created when Mayor Bryan Baptiste unexpectedly died June 22. The nonpartisan race was for the remaining two years left on his term in office. Carvalho will take office Dec. 1.
Yukimura said she “doubts very much” she will run for mayor again in 2010. But she said it is a “big possibility” she will seek another term on the council.
“The selection is not the end of our dream,” she said. “Just by being in the mayor’s race, we’ve shifted the conversation which is the first step toward change. There’s many ways and many days to keep working toward our goal. My commitment has been and will always be to serve the people of Kaua‘i and I will find a way to keep doing that.”
As the somber reality descended on an atmosphere of hope at the rally, supporters offered hugs, smiles and optimism to the candidate.
“No other candidate can match JoAnn’s skills, depth of knowledge and understanding in the public policy arena,” Gerald Hirata, co-chair of JoAnn Yukimura’s Many Friends, said in a prepared statement. “JoAnn thinks ahead of her time and has a clear vision for the future.”
Overshadowing the county races, of course, was the presidential election. A big screen TV at the Lihu‘e Neighborhood Center rally cast images of President-elect Barack Obama as campaign posters of Yukimura stood on the stage in the background.
“It’s going to be a new day,” Yukimura said after learning earlier in the evening that the Hawai‘i-born Democratic senator of Illinois was projected to win against Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona. “The country desperately needs a new direction. Barack Obama will be the leader who can take us there.”
Yukimura said the only regrets in her campaign were she wished she had organized it better and communicated her message more clearly.
The 58-year-old campaigned on a platform that underscored her experience as a visionary leader who gets things done. The Lihu‘e resident vowed to fix a flawed county planning process, expand public transportation, build more affordable housing, foster agriculture, solve the solid waste problem and take the necessary steps to make Kaua‘i sustainable.
But her opponent promised similar solutions to these issues. During recent political forums, Yukimura pointed at how Carvalho was “starting to sound a lot like me.”
The two candidates differed on what should be included in the county’s Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan, particularly the proposed waste-to-energy facility. Yukimura opposes the incinerator because it would cost millions of dollars and fails to encourage residents to change their habits.
The candidates were also marked by their supporters.
Carvalho received substantial campaign contributions from many county department heads and won the endorsement of the Baptiste family. Yukimura received numerous endorsements, particularly from environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, Apollo Kaua‘i and Zero Waste.
She repeatedly charged in debates that Carvalho would preserve the status quo if elected, failing to make the decisions necessary to move the county forward in a time of global warming and economic instability. But he maintains that change will come under his leadership.
Yukimura served as mayor from 1988 to 1994, which included handling Hurricane Iniki in 1992 and its aftermath. Carvalho, in a forum last week, pointed at the fact that voters chose not to reelect her in the next election.
First elected to the council in 1976, she will finish her seventh two-year term this month.
During her tenure in public office, she worked to produce a comprehensive waste management plan, an information technology system, Sunshine Markets, a new film commission, the Kaua‘i Bus, a housing policy and real property tax relief among other achievements.
The candidate spent yesterday hopping from one precinct to another, visiting with supporters. She described the atmosphere as “loving … very happy … and anticipating.”
“We didn’t have as many people out as the Carvalho campaign, but I’m happy,” Yukimura said in an interview early yesterday evening before results were released.
The latest state Campaign Spending Commission disclosure reports show Yukimura received less money but spent more than Carvalho in the fast-tracked dash to election day.
Yukimura received $175,416.14 in total campaign contributions, including a $39,900 loan during the most recent reporting period. She spent $224,717.86 through Oct. 20.
Carvalho received $238,246.14 in total campaign contributions, including a $30,000 loan taken out before the primary. He spent $168,642.52 through Oct. 20.
Yukimura announced her candidacy in July, two weeks after Baptiste’s death. Councilman Mel Rapozo entered the contest at the same time, but he was edged out of the race at the primary. Political newcomer Rolf Bieber was a distant fourth at the Sept. 20 election. Carvalho led the field of four, garnering 40 percent of the votes to Yukimura’s 30 percent.
She spent the last six weeks working to close that gap, but ultimately fell short.
“Everyone should go home and get some rest and start again,” Yukimura said. “That’s what I’m going to do.”
For more information, visit at hawaii.gov/elections
• Nathan Eagle, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or firstname.lastname@example.org