Only two of seven mayoral hopefuls will move on
Two current councilors, one former councilor likely front-runners
EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s election feature, part of The Maui News’ coverage of contested Maui County races in the Aug. 11 primary election, focuses on candidates seeking to become Maui County mayor. Stories on other races are being published in the days leading to the election. A primary election voter guide offering details on all county and state House and Senate contests was included in July 29 edition.
For the second mayoral election in a row, seven candidates have tossed their hat into the ring, and only two will emerge after the primary election Aug. 11. Given that every mayor of Maui County since 1991 has previously served on the council, it appears that Council Members Elle Cochran and Don Guzman and former Council Member Mike Victorino are the favorites with only two of them moving on to the general election.
However, tour operator Alec Hawley, builder and inventor Beau Hawkes, businessman and author Orion “Ori” Kopelman and small-business consultant Laurent “Mr. L” Zahnd hope to be the exception.
The seven candidates spoke on issues of affordable housing, tourism, economy, agriculture and their unique platforms in the lead up to the primary.
She grew up in Lahaina at a time when Pioneer Mill was still operating and cane burning and crop dusting were still common. She remembers “chasing the pesticide truck down the cane haul road” as it sprayed the fields with what the kids thought was water.
“You just lived with it. That was everybody’s jobs,” she said.
Since then, attitudes toward the agricultural practices of Cochran’s childhood have changed, and so has Cochran, who has gained a reputation among colleagues and voters as the face of environmental causes at the council level.
“I stand true to the environment and the culture and the progressiveness and all that for sure. I think I’m 100 percent that,” Cochran said.
A council member since 2011, Cochran is a big believer in creating affordable housing in perpetuity. She said if she were elected mayor, the county’s workforce housing agreements with developers would change to ensure more projects are made affordable in perpetuity.
“They’re just given a lot of leeway,” Cochran said. “I think people are not really pulling their fair weight around here when it comes to developments. The high-end stuff? No problem. Boom — they just pop those things up every day.”
One of Cochran’s priorities is to go after illegal short-term rentals. She also plans to take a closer look at county-owned lands and find out why the county has yet to use them for housing, as well as follow up on county-approved projects that are lagging behind and haven’t come through on their promises.
While tourism has been the economic lifeblood of her native Lahaina and most of the county, Cochran knows it can’t be the only driver. She said ways of easing Maui County’s reliance off tourism include farming — and she plans to look into the companies who control much of the land.
“Your large landowners, they’re not into giving people any long-term leases and affordable water rates,” Cochran said. “So can county get some of that land and fulfill those roles? . . . I am going to research their lands and make sure they have all the proper deeds and that they truly own what they say they own.”
Cochran thinks one of the biggest environmental challenges facing the county today is sea level rise and coastal erosion. She believes homeowners who fear losing their properties to erosion could benefit from creating a special improvement district, where affected residents pay a special tax to help fund a needed project for the area.
“But seawalls for me are not ever an option,” Cochran said. “It’s a hard situation. But I think from here on out, no more building in the coastline area, and no more walls. Roads and infrastructure need to get out of inundation zones, and we just need to build smartly, preparing for the future.”
In response to opponent Guzman’s comments that she is a “polarized” candidate, Cochran made it clear that she will welcome anyone to the table.
“I may not agree, but I will definitely tell them why,” Cochran said. “I will have my justifications and my facts. . . . It’s not just cause I don’t like you cause you’re a corporate or establishment or good ol’ boy. That will never be the reason why. The reason why is because you know what? You’re paving over iwi or you’re a detriment to this environment or something.”
Every now and then, opponents bring up Cochran’s 1994 felony conviction. Cochran, then known by her maiden name of Eleanora Kellett, pleaded no contest to second-degree attempted theft, following an incident in which she stood by while her then-boyfriend, Marco Antonio DeCiaccione, attempted to rob four tourists at gunpoint in Lahaina. Cochran said she’s “a living example that things can change.”
“I think we all had to learn things in our own way and (I) went down the wrong path and made some bad decisions,” Cochran said. “My family was still there to support me and help me along. I turned my life around. . . . No one should hold a mistake of someone’s past against them in the present, is how I look at it.”
For more information, visit elle4mayor.com.
When he worked as an attorney, Guzman was constantly shifting gears from criminal cases to wills and trusts, divorces, immigration and business law. One moment he’d be getting a client out of jail; the next he’d be helping someone sell a business.
“I loved it,” Guzman said. “That helped me transition to when I was a council member because there’s stuff coming at you 24/7. . . . That training I had as a general practitioner was very useful.”
Now Guzman wants to take on an even broader range of issues as Maui County mayor. The 48-year-old council member, who’s held the Kahului residency seat since 2013, believes it’s time to pass the torch to a new group of leaders his age.
“We’ve had the establishment forever,” Guzman said. “You can never forget what they’ve done. You can never forget the foundations that they’ve left behind. But you’ve got to let this next generation lead.”
The Manila-born Guzman has his sights set on affordable housing.
“I want to get in there and start making it happen,” he said.
Guzman said the “No. 1 priority” for housing projects is to keep them within the county’s growth boundaries, which are closer to infrastructure and thus more cost effective. Like Cochran, he wants to look into projects that have been approved but stalled for years. He suggested creating a system to track these projects, as well as creating a law or code that would require deadlines as conditions for project entitlements in the future.
“I think we really need to be proactive in reaching out to these projects and asking them, ‘What is your hang-up? And what can we do to assist you to get your project moving?’ ” Guzman said.
He also wants to see the county partnering with businesses to create affordable housing projects for their workers. He believes it’s a way to ensure housing for local residents, since the county can’t bar nonresidents from buying up new properties.
“If the county partners with a business that says, this (housing project) is for their workers, you get around the residency thing because you would assume that the workers in that business are residents,” Guzman said.
Guzman also believes the county needs better “customer service” when it comes to regulating local businesses. He said some businesses have complained that when the county cites them for minor violations, “a lot of times it’s such a drag or so prolonged that they end up losing money and shutting down,” Guzman said.
“There should be a customer service portion of enforcement, because these people are not criminals,” Guzman said. “They are productive citizens, productive businesses in our community. . . . We should have advocacy personnel that actually helps them work through the violations.”
One of Guzman’s goals is to push for an office focused on resiliency, sustainability and climate change. Two years ago, Honolulu established a similar office, which gathers data to help determine setbacks and create policies for resiliency and climate change. Not only would it help Maui County be more prepared, but it would allow the county to qualify for certain federal disaster funding and boost the county’s bond rating, Guzman said.
Of the three current and former council members running for mayor, Guzman believes he’s the most moderate candidate, describing Victorino as “part of the establishment” and Cochran as “an activist.”
“I feel that I’m a person that can work with any side of the spectrum,” Guzman said. “Because I know my opponents, they’re already polarized. . . . I proudly say that I don’t have any endorsements, because wouldn’t it be great to have finally a mayor that comes in with no strings attached?”
For more information, visit donguzmanmaui.com.
His resume makes it clear he’s a jack of all trades — he spent summers in high school working the pineapple fields of Lanai, went on to become a manager at the Zales jewelry store in Hilo, oversaw three different McDonald’s locations on Maui, then became an insurance broker and hotel security guard before running for public office.
“There’s two common themes,” Victorino said of his work experience. “One is service, and one is protection.”
Victorino, a council member from 2007 to 2016, hopes to continue serving the community he’s called home for more than 40 years. He said as mayor, he wants to bring back the local values of respect for one’s neighbor, collaboration and the “ability to agree to disagree.”
“A lot of the people today have taken this adversarial role — it’s my way or the highway,” Victorino said. “And you see that in council meetings. You see that in our community meetings.”
Diversifying the economy and creating jobs are among Victorino’s top priorities. He said he wants to see more agricultural diversity, perhaps in hemp, a versatile year-round crop that can also be used in building materials.
He thinks there’s more potential in the entertainment industries, such as film and sports, which have drawn plenty of visitors for events like the Maui Film Festival and the Maui Jim Maui Invitational college basketball tournament. And, he also sees a growing need in the elderly care sector, with the island’s aging population and Mainland retirees looking to come to Hawaii.
“Caregivers — this is another area that I believe we can continue to have some professional work, professional training and livable wages, because those are things people are looking for,” Victorino said.
Victorino said he also wants to see the visitor industry “step up to the plate again” and build workforce housing for its employees that would stay affordable in perpetuity. He thinks the county should try to provide land to nonprofits that can build homes at low cost. He also likes rent-to-own programs and believes the county needs to start building for the next generation, millennials.
“They want mobility,” Victorino said. “They want apartments, townhouses, condos, multifamily units. . . . A lot of the young people don’t want to be tied down to big mortgages.”
Alexander & Baldwin’s Kamalani housing project in Kihei, with its single-level and two-story attached homes, is a perfect example of the “density, not sprawl” strategy that Victorino wants to see.
As for the issue of coastal erosion and sea level rise, Victorino said setbacks are key. During talks over the Maui Island Plan, Victorino proposed minimum setbacks of 250 to 500 feet from the shoreline.
“We’ve got to start moving the infrastructure to higher ground or moving it back further in,” Victorino said. “When it comes to buildings that are already there, this is going to be a tough one. I believe replenishment of the sand and returning of the shoreline is going to be important.”
In response to opponent Guzman’s comments that he is a polarized candidate who is “part of the establishment,” Victorino said he’s willing to work with anyone.
“I get support from both businesses and the unions,” Victorino said. “My door has always been open, and I work with all the groups on many issues. Even the environmental groups will tell you that I work with them. I’m not polarized — I think I’m broad based.”
Victorino said he believes he brings a balanced vision — a big-picture view that values all issues equally.
“The legacy I’d like to leave behind as your mayor is really one of, I saw the problem, I brought people together, we solved it and made Maui no ka oi,” he said.
For more information, visit victorinoformayor.com.
His mayoral agenda is fairly clear cut.
“I’m kind of basic, just want a couple simple things,” Hawley told the audience at a West Maui candidate forum last month. “I want to vote on all development, I want healthy food and I want the traffic to go away because I drive all day for a living.”
The owner of Jungle Tours Maui has lived on Maui for about 30 years and said he decided to run for mayor “because I see a lot of weird things happening around the whole island.”
“We’re going in the really wrong direction on things,” Hawley said. “We’re going too fast. We need to slow down.”
One solution Hawley sees is to let residents vote on development. He envisions the county creating a secure database of registered Maui County voters who could cast their votes on everything from sand excavation in Central Maui to illegal vacation rentals, coastal erosion and affordable housing.
“We could have the secured database linked up to the internet, where you’d sign in by using a variety of methods . . . fingerprint or eye retina method,” Hawley said. “Don’t worry about hacking because there are some incredibly high-tech internet security companies out there providing 24/7 support. Some of them cost $10,000 a month. We could include the cost of the database security into the Maui County budget — $10,000 out of $700 million is basically nothing.”
Hawley believes a voting system will reduce the chance for bribery and corruption of council members and the mayor.
“It’s really easy to bribe 10 people if you’re a rich developer,” Hawley said. “You can’t possibly bribe 100 and something thousand voters.”
Hawley also believes there’s plenty in the county budget to “subsidize farming 100 percent with taxpayer dollars.”
“Pay the land-use bill, pay the water-use bill, pay the labor bill — and boom, there you have it,” Hawley said. “We could have farm stands sprinkled all over Maui. People could go there and pick up fresh, organic food any day, without paying out of pocket.”
Hawley, whose company offers “Maui’s only personal Jeep tour,” is also invested in the third goal of his agenda — cutting down traffic.
“We could double the Maui Bus availability during peak traffic times,” Hawley said. “We could also start seriously thinking about a Kihei-Upcountry road. We could vote on that by using our new Registered Maui Voter Database Internet Voting System. Get your phones ready.”
For more information, visit jungletoursmaui.com.
In the 2014 primary election race for mayor, Hawkes finished seventh with 380 votes, or 1.3 percent. Hawkes, however, was undeterred.
“When people learn what our campaign is about they support it,” he said. “We are for the people. We are coming from outside of a corrupt system, of course they will attempt to belittle us and call us crazy.”
Hawkes, a builder, inventor, philosopher and father of two, was formerly homeless and once addicted to ice, or crystal meth — experiences that he said have prepared him to solve problems at the county level.
“Having walked in many different shoes has given me the experience to find solutions for the problems we face,” Hawkes said.
Hawkes believes the way to bring more affordable housing to Maui is by cutting out “greedy developers.” He says homes can be built for much cheaper prices — $150 per square foot as compared to $300 a square foot.
“We need developers that are motivated to help provide housing as opposed to greedy developers that are in it to make money,” Hawkes said. “We have within our community right now righteous people who can work with the community to develop affordable housing. Any new developing needs to have open books, that is to say, every dollar spent should be accounted for and be available for the public to see. No more backroom dealings.”
Hawkes also believes that the housing development industry holds potential for more local jobs, instead of bringing in out-of-state help.
He also envisions the island developing other new industries.
“Maui can and will lead the world as an example of going from importing all our food and only having a tourism industry to producing abundant food crops, as well as developing new industries including manufacturing and tech,” Hawkes said. “Maui needs a zero waste recycling facility, as well as an arc foundry where we melt metal and turn rubbish into usable products. We need a county automobile junkyard and mechanics shop. We need a county sawmill that can turn excess trees into usable lumber. This lumber can be used to build affordable housing.”
In 2014, Hawkes gained notoriety when he ran away from a police officer and was shocked with a Taser in a video that went viral. In a trial, a 2nd Circuit Court jury found Hawkes guilty of resisting an order to stop a motor vehicle, failing or refusing to comply with a lawful order of a police officer and not having motor vehicle insurance.
He was sentenced to a 30-day jail term, one year’s probation and $1,000 in fines and fees.
“For me, I look at the Taser incident as a positive,” he said. “I have to, it happened and was seen by millions of people, most of which used it as a reason to jeer me.
“However, difficult experiences teach us the most important lessons in life. As such, it has hardened and sharpened me as a person. It was literally a crash course in activism, determination, patience and humility, which are the actions and foundation for my mayoral bid.”
Last year, Hawkes was charged with disorderly conduct and harassment in another confrontation with a police officer, who reported that Hawkes resisted arrest and had to be taken down during a traffic stop in Pukalani. On Friday, Hawkes disputed the officer’s account, saying he was attacked by the police and that the incident was captured on video.
All charges were dismissed, except for a petty misdemeanor, he said. A judge sentenced him to one year’s probation, credit for time served in pretrial detention, and ordered him to enroll in anger management classes.
“This latest incident has also taught me so very much,” Hawkes said. “It has further sharpened me and given me wisdom of how the system works. For that, I am so very thankful.
“So you see, these are opportunities for growth and really are blessings in disguise. How better to learn to solve the problems with society then by learning them through first hand experience.”
Orion “Ori” Kopelman
Sitting at a West Maui candidate forum last month with the six other mayoral candidates, Kopelman sported a giant black top hat and a fake Abraham Lincoln beard.
“If I get in as mayor you can count on me that I will make honest decisions and rational decisions,” Kopelman said, tapping his hat in a nod to Honest Abe.
Kopelman is making his third run at mayor after unsuccessful bids in 2010, when he finished eighth in voting with 111 votes, or 0.4 percent, and in 2014, when he finished sixth in voting with 709 votes, or 2.5 percent. Kopelman says he hopes the third time’s the charm.
“Sometimes, it takes some time for an idea to take root,” Kopelman said. “Big changes, especially those which involve paradigm shifts, happen gradually.”
Kopelman’s idea of big change has long been “Mauitopia,” his concept for a more efficient county government and community in which everyone is “doing what they love, eliminating all crime, and helping each other out, as the aloha spirit would ask that we do.”
The former professor and Silicon Valley consultant said he would make county government more efficient by creating deadlines and “acceptable goals for achieving time, cost and quality.”
“Having specific targets like 30 or 90 days is a major step in the right direction,” Kopelman said. “You might get turned down for a permit but at least you would know why much quicker.”
Kopelman, who left his first condo in Honokowai to move to Kahului because of the traffic, wants to see “a proper balance of development with quality of life.” He thinks the county needs to limit growth to ensure roads, parks and water supply systems aren’t overwhelmed.
When asked how he would limit growth while building up an affordable housing inventory, Kopelman responded that “we would require infrastructure availability before signing off on projects. A good example of this is the ‘show me the water’ legislation before building new communities. We could have similar legislation as regards roads and parks.”
He believes water availability is the most pressing environmental issue facing the county and said as mayor, he would work with county and state water departments and commissions to make sure treated and surface water sources are being properly used.
“I’m happy we already passed show me the water legislation to make sure any new developments have considered having enough water,” Kopelman said. “With a growing population, we need to make sure we have proper infrastructure including water availability, treatment and disposal.”
For more information, visit mauitopia.org.
Laurent “Mr. L” Zahnd
Zahnd started working with the Swiss federal highways office at the age of 15. From there he dabbled in tourism, public transit, marketing and volunteer firefighting, all jobs that he believes have equipped him to tackle Maui’s many challenges.
Take the bus system, for example.
“It seems like no one studied public transportation at the DOT, or they would know that the hub should always be in the middle of the routes and positioned at the edge of Kahului, to enable easy two-way connections to every destination without losing equipment and personnel service-hours for useless travel back and forth to Queen K all day long,” Zahnd said.
He believes it needs to run directly from the airport to hotels to encourage visitors to use it more and that lines need to be redesigned for faster transit.
Zahnd also offered his technology background to aid in the fight against illegal short-term rentals.
At a West Maui candidate forum, Zahnd told the crowd he believes there is no housing crisis. He thinks the answer lies not in building more housing but in taking existing housing back from the tourists.
“We have thousands of illegal vacation rentals ready to come back on the long-term market to naturally reduce demand and take the rent prices down,” Zahnd said. “As a tech guy, I know how to pull data out of Airbnb to identify the illegal rentals. I am going to create such a pressure on illegal rentals, they won’t be able to sleep at night until they put their units back on the long-term market or get themselves a permit.”
In 2016, Zahnd pleaded no contest to one misdemeanor charge of abuse of family and household members. Zahnd explained that he corrected his teenage sons after they stole from a neighbor and lied to him for a month.
“When I finally found out, I didn’t manage my anger properly, and I did hit them, leaving a mark on the eldest’s cheek,” Zahnd said. “The school did contact the police department, and although a lot of people are still telling me I did the right thing correcting my sons, I am sure it could have been managed better differently.”
Zahnd, who served four days in jail, said he takes “full responsibility for my mistake, but as a single parent already struggling to raise my three kids on my own, I didn’t get any help following this incident, and neither did my son, the real victim,” whom Child Protective Services took away for a month, Zahnd said.
“As a mayor, I’m going to address those issues and make sure we are helping to de-escalate tensions in our community and offering restorative justice with real social services, not just hammering everyone involved hoping our society will get better,” he added.
For more information, visit vote4L.com.
* Colleen Uechi can be reached at email@example.com.
Occupation: County Council member (since 2011); owner, Maui Surfboards
Community service: Na Kia’i o Waine’e member (2013-present); board member Waiola Church (2009-2010 and 2015-present)
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Occupation: County Council member (since 2013); attorney
Education: Creighton University, Bachelor of Arts and Science; Ohio Northern University, juris doctorate
Community service: Christ the King lector; resigned from nonprofit organizations to avoid council budget appropriation conflicts
Family: Married, three children
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Beau E. Hawkes
Birthplace: St. Anthony, Idaho
Occupation: Entrepreneur, inventor, artist, builder, carpenter
Political experience: Ran for mayor in 2014, finishing seventh in the primary with 380 votes
Education: High school diploma, Boise State University
Community service: Pick up trash, offer rides, feed the hungry, provide shelter to those in need, offer counseling, love and emotional support
Family: Single, two children
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Alec John Hawley
Birthplace: Manhattan Beach, Calif.
Occupation: Owner, Jungle Tours Maui
Education: Two years of community college
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Orion “Ori” Kopelman
Occupation: Former project management consultant
Political experience: Ran for mayor in 2014, finishing sixth in the primary with 709 votes
Education: Bachelor of Science in computer engineering with distinction, Stanford University, 1983
Community service: Rotary Club of Maui, 1998-2011
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Occupation: Insurance, Mutual Underwriters Corp.
Political experience: Maui County Council member, 2007-2016
Education: Studied business management at Hawaii Community College and Hilo College
Community service: Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Shelter, vice president (2013-2015); Knights of Columbus, state deputy (2012-2014 and 2018) and supreme warden (2016-2017); Maui Family Support Services, president and board of directors (2014-2017); General Insurance Agents of Maui, president, 2012-present
Family: Married, two adult sons
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EDITOR’S NOTE: Laurent Zahnd did not submit his biographical information.