LIHUE — The atmosphere at Council Chair Mel Rapozo’s campaign headquarters was festive Tuesday night. People were talking, smiling, enjoying dinner, listening to music, and hoping their candidate for mayor of Kauai would pull off an upset.
Then, the first printout numbers were read: Derek Kawakami, 7,289, Mel Rapozo, 3,493.
There was quiet. The air went out of the party.
For a few seconds, a disappointed Rapozo stared hard at the screen showing the results. Then, he smiled and tried to rally the troops.
“OK guys, let’s party,” he said, as the crowd responded with applause.
“It’s the first printout, obviously we’d like to see much better results than that. This ain’t no concession speech yet. We’re going to ride this thing out. Let’s keep our fingers crossed, let’s keep the faith, let’s wait for the next one. Enjoy, guys.”
But the second printout about 8:10 p.m. was much the same: Kawakami, 10,442, Rapozo, 4,993.
Rapozo would not be Kauai’s next mayor.
“Mel would be a great mayor,” said one of his supporters.
Earlier, Rapozo said he was cautiously optimistic about his chances.
“A lot of people wrote us off after the primary. Our team actually grew. Made me few really, really good about things. We went out and work our okoles off,” he said.
His team was persistent in its message.
“We don’t have the resources we wish we had, so we relied heavily on the social media and the belly to belly, face to face, coffee hours in living rooms and garages and try to do as many of those meet and greets as we possibly could,” Rapozo said. “It’s true grassroots, no doubt about it.”
He said they focused on what they heard from the people over the past several years — traffic and housing.
“What I heard back from people, they liked our tangible plans, our specific solutions versus broad generalities. We tried to focus on that, the specific solutions that I envision going forward,” Rapozo said.
He and his wife Patsy voted about 2 p.m., drove around and visited with supporters waving signs throughout the island, took a short break, then headed to his headquarters at Anchor Cove.
There, he chatted and exchanged many hugs.
In a short speech, he told the crowd he was often away from home during the campaign, which meant his wife had to do everything.
“I love you, Patsy,” he said, smiling. “Thank you for allowing me to serve these wonderful people of Kauai.”
He said their two children were in Oregon, where they lived.
“One of the reasons I’m running for mayor, we just cannot have our local kids being forced to move to the mainland,” Rapozo said. “We gotta put a stop to that.”
He said the island needed strong, courageous leadership.
“We gotta make some tough changes. We gotta make some tough decisions,” he said.