WAILUKU - Mayor Charmaine Tavares racked up another early endorsement when the United Public Workers union announced its support for her re-election bid during a news conference Tuesday.
Leaders of the UPW, the state's second-largest union with more than 2,000 members in Maui County, said that they have worked closely with Tavares during her first term and have been impressed with her leadership, respect and forthrightness, including her handling of the most recent difficult contract negotiations.
In March, another large Hawaii union, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, also threw its support for Tavares.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
Mayor Charmaine Tavares joins hands with United Public Workers State Director Dayton Nakanelua as well as other supporters Tuesday afternoon in Wailuku. The union announced an early endorsement of Tavares for her re-election.
"We truly believe this early endorsement is deserved," said UPW State Director Dayton Nakanelua at the UPW Maui Division office in Wailuku.
Four years ago, the union endorsed then-Mayor Alan Arakawa, who also has taken out nomination papers to regain the office he lost to Tavares in 2006.
Nakanelua told The Maui News that the union had "a positive relationship" with Arakawa during his term - as they have had with Tavares in her first term. He cited working closely with the current mayor on issues such as the county's switch to automated refuse trucks on some collection routes and coming up with satisfactory arrangements for his members.
Nakanelua added that the union was pleased with the state's four mayors, including Tavares, who "came together" on a new contract in March that reflected the difficult economic times. Under the terms of the agreement, 9,000 county and state workers could be furloughed up to 13 days for the remainder of this fiscal year, which ends June 30, and up to 24 days in the coming fiscal year.
County mayors have pledged to not begin furloughs until July 1.
Reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, Arakawa said he has no animosity toward the UPW for not endorsing him, saying the union needs to do what it feels is best for its workers.
He added that having a "too friendly" relationship with the union can make things difficult when tough decisions have to be made, especially when budget cuts are looming with a projected $56 million budget shortfall next fiscal year.
In a choice between making "tough cuts" in government versus raising fees, Arakawa said Tavares has chosen to raise fees rather than "make tough decisions in government."
In addition, Arakawa said that the mayor has proposed trimming allocations to nonprofit agencies in the community and cutting county funding for the 6-year-old helicopter ambulance program.
In defending the cuts to the helicopter ambulance program, Tavares administration officials have said that helicopter transports between Maui County and Oahu hospitals have declined since a second fixed-wing airplane medical transport company began service a few years ago.
Nakanelua said the endorsement was approved by unanimous vote of the UPW Maui Division Political Action Committee.
"It's an honor and a pleasure to receive this endorsement from the UPW," Tavares said, who has not yet checked out papers for re-election. "This means a lot to me, especially coming out this early."
The mayor said she has been working with the UPW for many years, including when she was a teacher, coach and athletic director in different public schools and as director of the county Department of Parks and Recreation.
She called the UPW workers her "backbone."
As of Thursday afternoon, seven people have pulled papers to run for Maui County mayor, according to the state Office of Elections. Those include Arakawa, Valarie L. Aquino of Lahaina, Joseph M. Durante of Kahului, Orion M. Kopelman of Kula, Peter A. Milbourn of Pukalani, Harold H. Miller of Kihei and Jonathon A. Olson of Kihei.
Planning consultant Chris Hart has announced his candidacy for mayor but hasn't pulled nomination papers.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@ mauinews.com.