Sit-Down With Candidates For Honolulu Mayor: Mufi Hannemann

Jul 23, 2020

Hawaii voters are casting mail ballots in primary elections for county, state, and federal offices. Oahu voters will be making their pick for the mayor of the City and County of Honolulu.

Most of the candidates for Honolulu mayor can be put into one of two categories:  members of a legislative body or political outsiders.

Then there is Mufi Hannemann. He is the only contender with experience as an elected executive. He is also the only candidate who has already been Honolulu mayor.

“That’s what drove me into the race,” Hannemann told HPR. “These are times of crisis. There is no substitute for executive experience. Legislative experience is not enough.”

While other candidates have said their fresh perspective or experience writing laws make them best suited for the job of mayor, Hannemann disagrees and says the current crisis calls for experience.

“If these were normal times, I'd say ‘take a chance,’ with someone who has never been a chief executive in government,” Hannemann explains. “Maybe it's time for new ideas. But this is an emergency situation. I can come in. I've been tested. I had to deal with the recession in 2008-2009. I was the mayor at that time,” he notes.

Hannemann may be most remembered as the mayor who launched Honolulu’s now infamous rail transit project, since beset by delays and cost overruns.

The former mayor maintains that the project was on budget when he left office, although critics argue that was due to depressed construction costs during the Great Recession.

Hannemann says he remains committed to seeing the project through to completion. But the once and possibly future mayor told HPR that his main focus, after ensuring public health and safety, will be restarting Oahu’s tourism industry.

He said he will pursue that goal with “laser-like focus.” That doesn’t necessarily mean an immediate return to 30,000 arrivals per day and 10 million visitors per year. Hannemann says he envisions a gradual build up, but also a reorientation of the tourism economy.

“This is going to be a rebranding of Hawaii tourism,” Hanneman said. “It's going to be responsible tourism, the kind of tourism that people want. We're not going to be trampling on resources. When the visitors come, they're going to understand that they have to respect the environment and the culture. I believe that as mayor, I can do things that I've done in the past like impact fees.”

Impact fees refer to charges paid by patrons of a particular attraction as a way to fund maintenance and conservation efforts. The City and County of Honolulu currently uses such a system at Haunauma Bay.

Hannemann currently heads the industry group Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association, which represents major hotel operators. He told HPR that he would also prioritize enforcement of the city ordinance restricting vacation rentals to resort areas only.

Find the rest of our interviews with mayoral candidates here.