LIHUE — When the first results flashed on the board Saturday evening, the crowd at the Kauai Veterans Center roared. The second set of numbers showed County Councilmember Derek Kawakami with a substantial lead by a more than 2-to-1 margin in the mayoral race.
“The evening is still early, but that’s darn great start to start off the evening with,” said Kawakami as he looked out at the sea of red and yellow shirts.
“I’m just overwhelmed with emotion and with that being said, I’m Derek Kawakami and I really want to be your next mayor,” he said as the crowd of about 600 once again cheered and applauded.
Later that night, the final readout of the primary election, with 16 of 16 precincts reporting, showed Kawakami with 8,633 votes, Mel Rapozo with 3,925, JoAnn Yukimura with 3,480 and Lenny Rapozo with 1,003.
The festival mood at the center featured dinner, music and lots of laughs and smiles as Kawakami’s supporters went into celebration mode early.
His wife, Monica, gave a short, emotional speech. She thanked the crowd and praised her husband as a good listener, who really cares about people, is compassionate, generous, a tough competitor and hard worker.
“I’m so incredibly proud to introduce my husband, my best friend, your next mayor, Derek Kawakami,” she said.
Kawakami said he was “the luckiest man in the world.”
He spoke of his campaign teams building bridges, looking at the issues, seeking solutions and planning for the future and creating a vision.
“Every person in that group, around that circles, had a very important role to play,” he said.
They all made sacrifices “because it was for one thing: for the betterment of our future.”
“This campaign is no different. Each and every one of you has played a role to get us to where we are tonight.”
He looked out at the crowd, everyone listening intently, and said, “I want to tell you how much I love you, that you are my family.”
When he saw his supporters out there working on his behalf, he said, they inspired him and gave him energy.
“That’s why, as this campaign goes on, we’re going to be getting stronger, smarter and more efficient and I can’t wait to march down that road in November,” he said.
Mayoral candidate Mel Rapozo said his goal was to get into the top two and advance to the general election.
“So far we’re there, we’re very happy, we’re pleased we want to see how the numbers print out the rest of the evening, but I’m excited,” he said.
About 100 people had gathered at his campaign headquarters at the Anchor Cove Mall in Lihue, to celebrate election night. Supporters were laughing and chatting excitedly while feasting on an array of food as they waited for the first results.
Among those who had gathered in support of the Kauai County Council chairman and former Kauai Police Department officer were family who had flown in from Oregon and the Big Island to surprise Rapozo last week.
“I’m feeling really good because I’ve got my son right here, my daughter is here from Oregon, my brother from the Big Island is here, my father’s in Seattle, but I’ve got my father’s brother here representing my cousins,” he said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had the whole family together.”
His family coming to support him was great, Rapozo said.
“At that moment, nothing else matters. It’s just so cool to have them all here,” he said.
Rapozo said his team worked hard at the grassroots level to get his message out during this election cycle.
“We’re looking forward to a nice general election run,” he said.
There are a lot more votes to earn during the general election, voters who didn’t vote and those who voted for other candidates. Rapozo said he will be interested in what the final numbers are.
“I congratulate Derek and his team. They worked really hard as well, so did JoAnn and the rest of the candidates, but I think if it ends up with Derek and I, I think the leadership, the experience will show itself and the people will have a great choice of candidates in the general,” Rapozo said.
JoAnn Yukimura was joined by more than a hundred supporters at her campaign headquarters in Lihue, enjoying food and entertainment. There was a quiet mood of anxiousness about the first readout.
When the first results came in, Yukimura was on the phone on the sidewalk outside her headquarters because a supporter said the wireless connection was only fair inside.
“This is just the first readout,” Yukimura said. “How much of the vote does it represent? I have come back in previous races, and the night is long yet. I want to thank all of my supporters who have been really incredible in their support.”