Pontanilla will seek to regain seat on council

After sitting out of office a year and serving as an executive assistant to the mayor, Joe Pontanilla will try next year to reclaim the Maui County Council’s Kahului residency seat, an office he lost to term limits in 2012.

“I’ve decided to run,” Pontanilla said in a phone call Tuesday afternoon. “It’s going to be a go.”

He said he made his decision to run after consulting with his campaign committee, family and friends.

“I want to work for the people,” Pontanilla said.

Pontanilla had served for six years as the council’s Budget and Finance Committee chairman, and he said he wanted to return to ensure programs that started during his terms on the council “continue forward.”

Pontanilla was not critical of Council Member Don Guzman, who won the Kahului residency seat in 2012. But he said he has the advantage of having more experience in council service.

“I know the district very well,” he said. And, “I can help Maui, Molokai and Lanai.”

Pontanilla has a campaign fundraiser scheduled for Jan. 29 at the Maui Tropical Plantation in Waikapu. A $10 contribution includes food and entertainment.

“I have a lot of respect for Joe,” Guzman said Tuesday afternoon. “Although after serving 10 years on the council, I would have expected him to graciously pass the torch of responsibility to the next generation.”

Guzman said he expected Pontanilla to make a second run for the Kahului state House seat “since it seemed he had his sights set on that level of government.”

Pontanilla ran against incumbent Gil Keith-Agaran in 2012 and put his name in the hat to replace Keith-Agaran when he was appointed to a state Senate seat. Justin Woodson was selected to fill out Keith-Agaran’s term in the House.

“I will continue to focus on the public’s best interest and continue to ask the hard questions that need to be asked for the betterment of our community as a whole,” Guzman said. “All nonincumbents are welcomed to the race, as it’s the one thing that makes our democracy great.”

Guzman chairs the council’s Economic Development, Energy, Agriculture and Recreation Committee. In 2012, Guzman beat Al Fukuyama in the general election race for the Kahului council seat, 48 percent to 30.5 percent, with 21.4 percent undecided.

In August 2012, Pontanilla fell short in the Democratic primary in his attempt to unseat then-Central Maui Rep. Keith-Agaran. The incumbent won nearly 57 percent of the vote, while Pontanilla took 39.5 percent, with the remainder of voters undecided.

Within months, Gov. Neil Abercrombie appointed Keith-Agaran to the Central Maui Senate seat vacated by Shan Tsutsui when he accepted an appointment as lieutenant governor.

Former Council Members Danny Mateo of Molokai and Mike Molina of the Makawao-Haiku-Paia residency seat also said in October that they were considering campaigns to reclaim their council seats. Voice mail messages left on their office phones were not immediately returned Tuesday.

Mateo and Molina also work as executive assistants in the Office of the Mayor.

Council Member Mike Victorino had considered running for mayor but said in October that he would seek re-election to his Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu residency seat.

The candidate filing deadline is June 3. The primary election is Aug. 9, and the general election is Nov. 4.

* Brian Perry can be reached at bperry@mauinews.com.