City council vacancies are making the race hot, but the transition could shut down business

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) — The Honolulu City Council on Wednesday said an early aloha to two members — and there’s no shortage of candidates fighting to replace them and fill a third vacant seat.

At the council meeting, Chairman Tommy Waters proclaimed it was “a happy day and a sad day” as he led an informal victory celebration for councilors Brandon Elefante and Carol Fukunaga, who are running for state Senate seats.

“I know you will win. that’s why we’re celebrating here today,” said Waters.

It was an unusual moment in the Hawaiian government, with awards for the outgoing councillors, both running as Democrats versus Republicans.

Fukunaga faces Republican Benjamin Sakai in Senate District 11, Manoa and Upper Makiki.

Elefante’s opponent in Halawa to Pearl City, District 16 is Republican Patricia Beekman.

Despite the tight races, longtime Republicans Andria Tupola and Heidi Tsuneyoshi praised their outgoing colleagues and wished them luck in the Senate.

In the council, all members are considered impartial, so party labels are often ignored.

The other unusual situation is caused by the different calendars of the council and the state legislature.

Assuming Fukunaga and Elefante are elected Tuesday night, they will leave Honolulu Hale immediately and head across the street to the state capitol to begin work.

This leaves two seats vacant on the council.

Council member Andria Tupola said the absences could disrupt the work of the nine-member council.

“We need to determine whether or not any of the committees could work,” Tupola said. “We have to have a quorum for each committee – that’s usually three to four people.”

Tupola could fail some measures with deadlines and pointed out that a third vacancy will be created when Heidi Tsuneyoshi leaves office at the end of December.

“Back in December, we definitely didn’t want to convene any committees … so the committee hearings might not happen until January next year,” Tupola said. She added that that could be a good thing – not making big decisions when there’s no one representing large parts of the island.

There are three campaigns to fill the vacancies, as well as a challenge for Waters.

Hawaii News Now political analyst Colin Moore, director of the UH Public Policy Center, said Waters is not getting any serious challenge from Kaleo Nakoa, an unknown relative with little campaign money.

Moore said one of the closest races — in the North Shore District, Tsuneyoshi resigned in an unsuccessful race for governor — pits progressive attorney Matt Weyer against champion waterman Makuakai Rothman.

“It’s going to be a close race, but this is a district that’s pretty conservative anyway,” Moore said.

“Celebrity combined with a bit more conservative politics, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Makua Rothman wins this one.”

House Minority Leader Val Okimoto meets former City Councilman and Representative Ron Menor in the Mililani-Pearl City Borough race.

“He has all the money he raised when he was on the council,” Moore said. “But from what I’ve heard, Okimoto is doing very well in this race. I mean, she was a very popular member of the house.”

In central Honolulu, Moore gives Tyler Dos Santos-Tam, a building union lobbyist and former Democratic Party leader, the upper hand over Traci Toguchi, Fukunaga’s legislature and former Miss Hawaii.

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