By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Mayor Billy Kenoi finished strongly in Saturday’s primary, winning 42.5 percent of the vote and leading his nearest challenger by more than eight points.
Kenoi will face Harry Kim, the former two-term mayor and his own former boss, in November as he vies for another four years in office.
Kenoi won 17,549 votes with all precincts reporting. Kim had 14,084 votes, or 34 percent, despite being heavily outspent.
County Council Chairman Dominic Yagong came in third with 7,932 votes, or 19.2 percent.
Kim, 72, said he was disappointed with the results.
“The differential is a substantial one,” he said. “It’s going to be mean a lot of extra hard work with the general (election).”
Kim called Kenoi a “very formidable candidate.”
“His resources are very impressive,” he added.
Kenoi, 43, speaking at a packed campaign rally in Hilo, thanked his many jubilant supporters for Saturday’s success.
“It took a lot of hard work,” he said.
Kenoi attributed his lead to his message, which he said resonated with voters.
“As long as we can work together, we can make great things happen,” he said.
The two finalists are hardly unfamiliar with each other. Kenoi had served as one of Kim’s executive assistants during his tenure and ran for mayor in 2008 after Kim, facing a term limit, stepped down.
Kim did not announce his candidacy until June, but it was much anticipated.
He has said he decided to run to help restore the public’s faith in government, and quickly turned the election into a three-person race.
Kim has remained largely popular after his 2000-2008 tenure and, as in the past, has relied on name recognition alone to get him high in the polls.
Kenoi, on the other hand, has benefited from a hefty war chest, which he has used to outspend Kim and Yagong 16-1.
Kenoi had spent $474,302 as of July 27.
In comparison, Kim had spent $3,563 and Yagong had spent $25,159.
On Saturday, it appeared to give him the edge.
Kim said he couldn’t say whether the funding gap was the cause.
“I’m sure it’s a factor,” he said. “I’m just not sure how much of a factor.”
Kenoi said the campaign was about the message, not how much was raised or spent.
Asked if he thinks he can win votes from Yagong supporters, Kim said he couldn’t speculate.
Yagong, 52, conceded the race Saturday night after seeing half the precincts counted.
“We worked very hard,” he said. “One thing I just told my supporters is we always been a (campaign) that truly listens to the will of the people.
“This time they have spoken and I give the congratulations to Mayor Kenoi and former Mayor Kim.”
Yagong said he plans to focus on his daughter’s campaign for his seat on the County Council, and declined to speculate on another shot at politics.
“We’ll see what the future holds,” he said.
Yagong’s council term will end Dec. 3.
He has represented the Hamakua Coast for 12 of the last 16 years, and previously ran for mayor in 2004.
Yagong had retired from his job as district manager for Food Pantry on March 5 to run for mayor.
Here are the totals for the other candidates:
— Share Christie, 480 votes, 1 percent
— Daniel Cunningham, 321 votes, 0.8 percent
— Rand (Baker Tom) Walls, 213 votes, 0.5 percent.
The general election will be held Nov. 6.
Email Tom Callis at email@example.com.