A few "birthday bash" political fundraisers are signaling the beginning of Maui County's election season, more than a year before voters cast general election ballots on Nov. 4, 2014.
On Tuesday, County Council Member Mike Victorino hosted his "61 and Still Having Fun" fundraiser at the Velma McWayne Santos Community Center in Wailuku. Now nearing the midway point in his fourth two-year term in the council's Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu residency seat, Victorino said the event was indeed "a lot of fun." The event drew 500 to 600 people, each paying $15 to support Victorino's campaign.
It remains to be seen whether that campaign will be for a return to his council seat, probably in a rematch with 2012 challenger Joseph Blackburn, or for an attempt to deny Mayor Alan Arakawa a second consecutive four-year term and a third term overall.
Mayor Alan Arakawa receives an All-Star jersey from Maui County Council Member Mike Victorino in 2012. Victorino is the father of major league outfielder Shane Victorino of the Boston Red Sox. Although Victorino said that he is undecided about a bid for the Mayor’s Office next year, there are no other well-known candidates surfacing at a time when a campaign’s organization and fundraising would be well underway for next year’s elections.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Mayor Alan Arakawa marches in this year’s Fourth of July Parade in Makawao. Arakawa is known for his ability to attend numerous community events in a single day, a half-dozen or more on weekend days. “I really enjoy it,” he said.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Arakawa delivers his State of the County address in the Baldwin High School Auditorium in February. Arakawa is seeking re-election to a second consecutive four-year term and his third overall. He also served as mayor from 2003 to 2006, losing that year to Charmaine Tavares. He returned to defeat Tavares in 2010.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
When asked last week whether he'd run for mayor next year, Victorino said the race is "a consideration."
"It's still on the table," he said. "My wife (Joycelyn) and I, along with our campaign committee, have not made a decision . . . We're still up in the air, considering the option."
Meanwhile, Kahului Council Member Don Guzman will hold his 44th birthday celebration at a $100-per-plate event Friday at Cafe O'Lei at the Dunes at Maui Lani. And, Arakawa will have his own "birthday bash," celebrating his 62nd birthday beginning at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 19 at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.
PEERING INTO THE CAMPAIGN WAR CHEST
Mayor Alan Arakawa has more surplus money available than any other Maui County-based officeholder, according to records filed for Jan. 1 to June 30 with the state Campaign Spending Commission.
Except for Maui County Council Members Stacy Crivello and Elle Cochran, Maui County's elected officials have surplus funds ranging from more than $320,000 to $505.
Here's how the mayor stacks up against other Maui elected officials in money available as of June 30, the end of the last reporting period:
Alan Arakawa $322,181.89
Maui County Council
Riki Hokama (Lanai residency seat) $38,469.79
Mike Victorino (Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu) $26,765.93
Gladys Baisa (Pukalani-Kula-Ulupalakua) $16,645.90
Mike White (Makawao-Haiku-Paia) $12,105.59
Robert Carroll (East Maui) $6,923.95
Don Couch (South Maui) $1,931.12
Don Guzman (Kahului) $505.09
Stacy Crivello (Molokai) $947.16 (deficit)
Elle Cochran (West Maui) $53,060.63 (deficit)
Shan Tsutsui $294,406.83
Roz Baker (West and South Maui) $102,195.30
J. Kalani English (East Maui-Upcountry-Molokai-Lanai) $50,591.51
Gil Keith-Agaran (Wailuku-Waihee-Kahului) $14,493.40
State House of Representatives
Kyle Yamashita (Upcountry-Spreckelsville-Kahului) $52,047.80
Joe Souki (Wailuku-Kahakuloa-Waiehu-Waikapu) $32,214.29
Angus McKelvey (West Maui-Maalaea-North Kihei) $10,248.75
Kaniela Ing (South Maui) $9,632.55
Mele Carroll (East Maui-Molokai-Lanai) $4,568.87
Justin Woodson (Kahului-Puunene-Maui Lani) $2,686.57
Arakawa campaign Chairwoman Lynn Araki-Regan said that she expects 2,000 to 3,000 people to attend, paying $25 each to support the mayor's re-election and to be entertained by Hapa, Na Hoa and John Stephan.
The scale of the Arakawa event - with the expectation of thousands of attendees - reflects the no-holds-barred approach of the mayor's re-election campaign, despite the lack of any announced opponent.
"At this point, we have not been made aware of any specific person confirmed on running for mayor next year," Araki-Regan said. "Nevertheless, we're running this campaign as if the most strong opponent were out there."
On Saturday, Arakawa said via cellphone that he expects that by the June 3 candidate filing deadline "there will be people who want to run for mayor."
He said he has no control over whether candidates decide to run against him, but meanwhile "we're doing what the people expect us to do. . . . We're doing the best that we can."
"The only thing we're really concerned about is doing a good job," he said.
Although the island's coconut wireless would be expected to buzz by now if a viable candidate were gearing up to unseat Arakawa, County Council Chairwoman Gladys Baisa said last week that it's been silent so far.
"I have not heard one single word," said Baisa, except "joking stuff, . . . nothing serious.
"I don't think there's anyone serious" about challenging Arakawa, she said.
When asked if she might consider running for mayor, Baisa said she welcomed the chance to state publicly: "I have absolutely no intention to run for mayor, ever."
Baisa, who turned 73 last month, said that she intends to run next year for her fifth-and-final term in the council's Pukalani-Kula-Ulupalakua residency seat and then retire.
"I made up my mind a long time ago," Baisa said.
She said many of her contemporaries are battling serious illnesses, and she's afraid that if she doesn't stop working she won't have time to enjoy with her family in retirement.
"I love what I do," she said. But "it's time for someone else . . . I think I've done my thing."
In the mayoral primary race in 2010, retired electrical contractor Randy Piltz finished in third place with 5,613 votes and 19.5 percent of the vote. Now, he works in the Mayor's Office as an executive assistant, and he said he's not going to run for mayor in 2014.
The focus of Piltz's campaign in 2010 was to streamline Maui County's permit process, and "that's what I'm doing," he said last week. Progress is not going as fast as he would like, he said, but it "takes a while in government." Piltz added that he's "making headway."
County Council Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Mike White, a former state House member, said he would be seeking re-election to his Makawao-Haiku-Paia residency seat.
"I have no interest or intentions of running for mayor," he said via email.
State Campaign Spending Commission records show that Arakawa already has amassed a campaign war chest with a $322,182 surplus for the filing period from Jan. 1 to June 30.
During those six months, the mayor added $52,675 to the $294,800 in cash he had on hand as of the end of 2012. His campaign spent $25,293.
Araki-Regan said that those working for the mayor's re-election are leaving nothing to chance, approaching the campaign as if Arakawa were an underdog, facing not one but 10 strong opponents.
"We're going to work tirelessly between now and the election to get our candidate elected," she said Wednesday. "We're not going to take anything for granted."
Victorino said his priority now is to serve his term on the County Council.
"My focus is council," he said. "My work is council. That's what brought me into office. . . . Anything else . . . depends on what happens out there."
Victorino said he did not want to commit to one course of action too early and then have his hands tied. He wants "political fluency," he said, "so I can move if I need to move."
He said he'll wait "to see how things pan out."
"I want to see what the rest of the world is doing in January of next year," he said.
Victorino said he could be happy to serve a final two-year term on the council, sit out of office for two years and possibly run for mayor when it's an open seat in 2018.
Arakawa and his supporters have tasted the bitterness of defeat twice - first when Arakawa, then a Maui County Council member, lost to James "Kimo" Apana in 1998 (Arakawa rallied and beat Apana in 2002) and then in 2006 when he was denied re-election as mayor with a defeat by Charmaine Tavares. Just as he had done with Apana, Arakawa won a rematch with Tavares in 2010, taking 57.2 percent of the vote to Tavares' 40.1 percent.
Tavares did not return a phone call seeking comment last week. Her former spokeswoman, Mahina Martin, said Sunday that Tavares has not spoken about running again.
"By all accounts, she's enjoying retirement immensely," Martin said. "She's having a great time."
Part of what is motivating Arakawa's supporters is the memory of the mayor's loss to Tavares in 2006.
"It was the most devastating experience for the campaign workers who worked so hard," Araki-Regan said.
Arakawa said that painful experience showed what not to do in future campaigns.
"We learned that we can't be complacent," he said.
The mayor said that the campaign learned to communicate regularly with the public, instead of working behind the scenes.
"We did hundreds of projects" from 2003 to 2006, he said, but "nobody was aware of it."
Arakawa said his defeat in 2006 led to many of his administration's projects losing "a lot of ground" when he wasn't in office.
He cited areas for parks that his administration wanted to purchase and develop for the public and a homeless shelter in Kihei as being among projects that lost steam under the Tavares administration.
"A lot of things were dismantled," he said. "We had to start again. It takes a lot more work to restart something, to continue and follow it all the way through."
Now, major issues include acquiring hundreds of acres for development of playing fields and getting county agencies out of costly leased office space, Arakawa said.
Victorino acknowledged that when he won re-election to his council seat in 2012 he told his campaign supporters that "we will look at the mayor's race . . .if and when the opportunity arose."
He said he did not commit then to run for mayor.
For now, the top priority is to continue his work on the council to get Maui out of "one of the worst economic recessions, globally countrywide and statewide," Victorino said.
Maui is "barely getting out of the worst recession in our history," he said. And another downturn could be triggered by a major world event, such as war in Syria.
Victorino said he also does not want a mayoral candidacy to become a "big political battle" that would be divisive for Maui's community.
"I won't do it," he said. "I will not hurt this community."
Another factor is Victorino's health.
This summer, he was working hard, "burning the candle on both ends" with late-night meetings, he said, when he felt tired and was experiencing shortness of breath.
Victorino visited his doctor and spent more than a week from July 15 to 23 at Kaiser Moanalua on Oahu undergoing tests for his heart. A dye test found no artery blockages, but doctors diagnosed him with atrial fibrillation - a common heart rhythm disorder - that Victorino said is being treated with medications, more sleep, a healthy diet and exercise.
"My health is much better than it was," he said. "I lost weight (20 pounds). I eat better."
Victorino said his doctor told him: "You've got to take care of yourself before you take care of the world."
He has made lifestyle changes. Victorino no longer drinks soda, and he keeps his sodium intake in check, only rarely indulging in a late-night bowl of saimin, which has 3,200 kilograms of sodium - before adding shoyu.
Instead of eating saimin every other night, he has a green salad. "That's even better," he said.
Victorino's health would not stop him from running for mayor, if that's what he decides to do, he said.
Kula resident and retired Maui Community College economics and geography professor Dick Mayer has been a longtime observer of island politics. In election years, he organizes candidate forums for the Kula Community Association.
Arakawa has found favor with key supporters who donate to political campaigns - developers and labor unions, Mayer said.
He said he doesn't think Arakawa has made any major mistakes, or "nothing so glaring," - even with the dispute over the Old Wailuku Post Office's demolition - that would make him vulnerable to a political opponent.
Arakawa risked angering voters in South Maui when his administration supported two large shopping mall projects in north Kihei, Mayer said.
But "I don't think that's dramatic enough to overturn voter sentiment countywide," he said.
Baisa said she sees no serious challenger to Arakawa's re-election.
Given the June 3 candidate filing deadline, that's not much time for a contender to raise money, rally workers and put together a strong organization, she said.
"I don't see it happening," she said.
On top of everything, Arakawa is constantly out in the community, attending events and making himself available to people, Baisa said. "He works really, really hard."
She said she would not have the stamina to attend five events in a day, as Arakawa does almost routinely.
"He's unstoppable," she said.
Arakawa said that the number of events depends on whether it's a weekday or weekend day. On Saturday or Sunday, he attends between five and eight events, he said.
He said he might get a full day off once a month. Even if he's shopping at the grocery store, people stop him numerous times to talk.
"It's something I like to do," he said. "I really enjoy it."
Arakawa said he attended Victorino's birthday celebration last week and was invited to speak as he does at most events.
It was "very nice," he said.
* Brian Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.