Hawaii island mayor to depart after years in public service

HILO — Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim’s departure from office this week could close the career of one of the island’s most significant political figures.

Kim is scheduled to step down Monday when the mayor’s oath of office is taken by Mitch Roth, the Hawaii County prosecutor of eight years, The Honolulu Tribune-Herald reported.

Kim, 81, served two terms as mayor from 2000 to 2008 and another from 2016 until his departure this week following the third-place finish in the August primary that ended his reelection bid.

“I’m very proud of the hard work my team has done the past four years,” Kim said Thursday. “I think Mitch will be very happy with what he’s inheriting and how everyone works together.”

Kim did not hold elected office before his first term as mayor, although he became a public figure during 24 years as Hawaii County Civil Defense administrator. His voice on the radio reassured the public during numerous lava emergencies.

Kim has been known for long workdays despite suffering six heart attacks.

“I’ve never told anyone this before,” Kim said Thursday. “Three times, my wife was told I was going to die. Three separate times. One time, I wasn’t even 40 years old, I think.”

Kim had a heart defibrillator installed at Hilo Medical Center in July 2018 and refused anesthesia during the procedure, something one of the cardiologists told him no previous patient had done, he said.

Kim said he has not taken a day off since Feb. 28, when he declared a countywide emergency because of the coronavirus pandemic. Kim made the declaration five days before Democratic Gov. David Ige declared a statewide emergency.

“I wish I had a little more time, because what we established here is the best testing system anywhere in the United States, and certainly in the state of Hawaii,” Kim said.

Andy Levin, a former County Council member and state legislator who served as Kim’s managing director between 2000 and 2008, described him as “a unique public servant who will be sorely missed.”

“He never had a hidden agenda,” Levin said. “He never played politics — always doing what he thought was right for the community, not what was popular, or good PR, or what was best for himself or his image.”

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

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