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Campaign launched to recall mayor

Victorino says he is ‘saddened’ but administration is doing the best it can

Maui residents step forward to speak about their reasons for wanting to move forward with the recall process on Saturday outside the Maui County building in Wailuku. The recall process includes collecting signatures of support from at least 20 percent of registered voters. Bruce Douglas photo

A group of residents has launched a campaign to recall Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino over concerns with COVID-19 vaccine mandates, the administration’s transparency during the pandemic and other grievances that include water needs and housing issues.

Organizers are seeking to collect over 21,000 signatures of support in 30 days — this amounts to the number of signatures required to initiate the recall process of an elected official, according to the Maui County Charter, Article 12.

“I’m standing up for this government overreach because these mandates are illegal and absolutely uncalled for,” said lead organizer Sheila Walker on Sunday afternoon. “I feel like this type of statement is one of the legal ways we have in going about stopping the mandates.”

While the next mayoral election is in 2022, Walker said they want to take action now before COVID-19 vaccine mandates, possible lockdowns and other restrictions “get out of control.”

“It’s already out of control and it needs to be stopped,” she said. “Every single person has a different reason to sign and everyone has had a different experience with the mayor, and a lot of it has gone back way before the mandates.”

Bianca Antonio helps to distribute packets containing a petition to recall Mayor Michael Victorino on Saturday morning in Wailuku at the county building. Daniel Smith photo

On Saturday morning, about 200 to 300 people gathered at the Maui County building in Wailuku for the campaign launch where they were able to sign their names on the petition or pick up recall signature packets that can be distributed islandwide.

About half of the 1,000 packets were picked up that morning. Another packet distribution is slated from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday at Kalama Park in Kihei where the remaining packets will be handed out, Walker said.

Victorino said that he was “saddened” over the efforts but that residents had the right to do so.

“I’m saddened to hear this, but it’s their right to come forward and feel like I’m not doing the job that they want, but I still believe the vast majority of Maui County appreciates the work that my administration and other professionals that work with us have been doing throughout this pandemic,” the mayor said Sunday afternoon via phone. “I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish.”

Although the mandates may seem strict at times, they serve a purpose, Victorino said, like ensuring the health and safety of the community, especially the kupuna and those who are at high risk for contracting the virus.

About 1,000 petition packets were available for pickup on Saturday to launch the Recall Victorino campaign. Daniel Smith photo

With COVID-19 case numbers at a slow decline, he added that the restrictions will be dropped soon, but will make sure that the health care system does not go over capacity limits.

“I’m sorry that it has gone to this extent, but it is their right and I hope that the vast majority of the people of Maui County still believe in what I’m doing,” he said.

The campaign was launched on Thursday after Walker initiated and submitted an official affidavit with the Office of the County Clerk to begin the legal process of a recall.

Following an affidavit, a petition must be signed by no less than 20 percent of Maui County registered voters in the last general election; this means 21,586 in-person signatures must be obtained during the 30-day period, County Clerk Kathy Kaohu said.

If all signatures are gathered, then Victorino has five days to decide whether or not to resign. If he does not resign, then a special recall election may take place where Maui County registered voters can vote for his removal on a day chosen by the council, according to the charter.

If the majority votes for removal, then Managing Director Sandy Baz becomes the acting mayor.

Walker said she’s “a thousand percent confident” that enough support will be gathered to force a recall election, but is worried about the “integrity and legitimacy” of the election itself.

“It seems the main reason people are being motivated to recall the mayor is because he continues to curate unrealistic mandates pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic instead of promoting early treatment alternatives and preventative care,” said fellow organizer Napua Hueu on Saturday. “Many involved are parents who cannot watch their children play sports, and those parents of children who cannot play sports due to the vaccine mandate, although there are many who seem to rally for other reasons as well.”

Another group of individuals involved with the recall are concerned with the county’s spending reports in relation to the millions of CARES Act funds that were received during the pandemic.

“Lack of government transparency and lack of leadership competency seems to be the primary inspirational points for this recall,” said Hueu, adding that her primary reason for supporting the initiative is the water diversion issue, particularly the stream water needs for taro farmers in East Maui, as well as advocating for water sources as it relates to food security and alleviating drought islandwide.

Other areas of concern among community members include the affordable housing crisis and issues surrounding the unsheltered population, she said.

“Yes, this pandemic has slowed down things like housing and other issues, not only here, but all over the United States,” Victorino said. “(Recall organizers) are bringing in everything, like homelessness, and water– they want to try to get me on everything — but you know, for me, I’m doing the best job that I can for the people of Maui County and those that don’t like what I do, I’m sorry.”

While he respects the campaigners’ choice to move forward with the recall process, Victorino said that he will continue to back the hard work of local, state and federal partners, such as the “nonprofits, the businesses and government working together and collaborating through these difficult times.”

“You can have your opinion and your desires, and I respect that, but I am doing the best I can for the majority and I believe that our administration, whether it was the floods, the brush fires, the pandemic, the economy and all aspects, we have worked very hard to do the best we can for most the people of Maui County,” he added. “I know we can’t satisfy everybody in that matter and I’m sorry they feel this way.”

Organizers of the recall, some who have been involved in the recent Mandate-Free Marches that drew thousands of community members, said that there are numerous locations around the island with signature packets available for pickup.

Some businesses include Moku Roots in Lahaina, Maui Pack and Ship in Kahului, Mandala Creations in Paia, The Gym Maui in Kihei, Makai Cafe in Hana and A’a Roots in Napili.

“People are upset and they’re over it and tired of it,” said Bruce Douglas, organizer and store owner of Mandala Creations. “We can’t affect the state level, but we can affect the county level. So, this is to send a strong message to our officials that the people of Maui County are not going to put up with all this any longer.”

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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