By PETER SUR
Tribune-Herald staff writer
There still exists a split between East and West Hawaii, if votes from the mayor’s race are any indication.
Mayor Billy Kenoi carried West Hawaii in his bid for re-election and Harry Kim carried East Hawaii, an analysis of the race shows.
Kenoi racked up the highest vote totals in the 5th, 6th and 7th House Districts of West Hawaii, which run from Naalehu in the south to Hawi in the north. Combined, they gave Kenoi 14,366 votes to Kim’s 10,858 votes, for a difference of 3,508 votes. That was more than enough to overcome Kim’s advantage in the Puna and Hamakua districts.
In House Districts 1 through 4, representing East Hawaii from Kukuihaele to Pahala, voters are still wild about Harry. Kim carried those districts, receiving 19,502 votes to 17,431 for Kenoi, for a difference of 2,071 votes.
Despite the closeness of the final vote, the outcome was no contest in Puna and Hamakua, where Kim raked in the votes in Tuesday’s runoff against Kim’s former executive assistant.
Nor was it close in Kona and Kohala, where Kenoi swept the precincts from Waimea to Kealakekua, and in Hilo, where the incumbent mayor did well enough to preserve his 1,437-vote margin of victory.
Puna, the birthplace of both Kim and Kenoi, broke heavily for Kim, as it did in the primary election.
Hamakua also supported Kim after its representative on the County Council, outgoing Chairman Dominic Yagong, endorsed Kim for mayor.
And in a switch from the primary election, voters in South Kona and Ka‘u (with the exception of Pahala) supported Kim over Kenoi.
But the victor was Kenoi, who has made it a point in his first term of emphasizing the importance of West Hawaii. The west side responded to the increased attention, rewarding him with the votes and giving him four more years.
That’s the assessment of Councilman-elect Dru Kanuha.
“I know a lot of people, especially in the Kona area, were pretty satisfied in the last four years” as they noticed things were getting done, Kanuha said. He said the talk of an east-west split in Hawaii County, rampant during the years of the Kim administration, had largely quieted down since Kenoi was elected.
With the new roads being built in Kona and Kenoi’s emphasis on picking department heads from West Hawaii, and the construction of the West Hawaii Civic Center, people are seeing that things are getting done, Kanuha said.
“We need to have roads, connections, and that’s what we needed. And that’s what we got,” Kanuha said.
Meanwhile in Puna, Rob Tucker, a community advocate and board member of the Friends of Puna’s Future, said the roads were the issue that kept people from voting for Kenoi.
Four years ago, Tucker attempted to work with Kenoi, but “that cooperation never materialized.”
“Whether it will at this point, I guess time will tell,” Tucker said. He faulted Kenoi for not making progress on the decades-long issue of fuel taxes, paid by Puna and Ka‘u drivers who use the 750 miles of roads within private subdivisions, that are going out of the district to roads elsewhere in the county.
Tucker, who supported Kim, said geothermal issues also hurt Kenoi’s support in the district. For example, the precinct that includes Leilani Estates, Kapoho and Puna Geothermal Venture supported Kim by a vote of 1,828 to 1,173.
“I think Harry is warmly regarded in Puna, and … I think far less so with Billy,” Tucker said.
Email Peter Sur at firstname.lastname@example.org.