The two first-time candidates competing to represent the North Shore and central Oahu on the Honolulu City Council both promised to prioritize reducing the cost of living on the island, particularly for the elderly.
Matt Weyer and Makua Rothman spoke Monday during a debate hosted by the Kokua Council, a group that advocates for older adults in Hawaii. Weyer, a Waipahu Neighborhood Board member and city housing official, said his main focus would be to address the island’s lack of affordable housing.
“We are in crisis right now in terms of our housing inventory, and folks are moving away at record rates,” he said.
Rothman, a big wave surfer, pitched himself as someone who has firsthand experience with many of the struggles of his neighbors – including homelessness – and could solve problems with a can-do attitude.
“I hear a lot of talk in the city,” he said. “I’ve been watching a lot of things and people like to talk around issues instead of saying, ‘We have to get this done’ and actually go in and get it done.”
District 2 encompasses the North Shore and surrounding areas, including Haleiwa, Pupukea, Sunset Beach, Kahuku, Laie and Punaluu. The largest City Council district by land area, the district is currently represented by council member Heidi Tsuneyoshi, who is leaving office after an unsuccessful bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.
After redistricting last year, the district now includes portions of central Oahu, including Waikele, Royal Kunia and Wahiawa. Those areas have been part of District 9, currently represented by Councilman Augie Tulba.
You can watch the full debate here:
During the debate, Weyer and Rothman spoke about a variety of topics. Asked about the legacy of agricultural contamination in the district, Rothman criticized companies like Monsanto that have released chemicals into the ground.
“I don’t think these companies have a place in our district, should I be here,” Rothman said.
Weyer spoke about the need to support local agriculture, and said the council should avoid rezoning agricultural lands.
The candidates agreed that the district needs infrastructure improvements, including sidewalks. And they both spoke favorably about rent control, restrictions on evictions and imposing a tax on vacant homes owned by the wealthy.
“The folks coming in and buying, you know, luxury aren’t going to be our teachers and our firefighters and our police officers and our city employees,” Weyer said.
When it comes to tackling corruption, Weyer said he would support campaign finance reform – a state issue – as well as improved ethics training.
Rothman didn’t offer specific solutions but said “we need to clean that up.”
“We have to be the ones that uphold the highest standards in office,” he said. “That hasn’t been done.”
There were few points of direct disagreement between the candidates during Monday’s debate, but Rothman took several shots at Weyer. The North Shore surfer suggested that his opponent is taking advantage of the newly drawn political lines to advance his career.
Rothman also questioned Weyer’s local credentials, saying residents need “someone who actually knows the district.”
“Having a desk job and being a lawyer and all that stuff is cool,” Rothman said. “But we have a lot of those in the city right now. We need people from these communities that understand these communities.”
Weyer, an attorney who grew up in Waikele, did not respond to the jabs.
Whoever wins will have an ally on the council.
Weyer is backed by his former boss, City Council Chair Tommy Waters, while Rothman is supported by the council’s floor leader Andria Tupola, who is a paid consultant to Rothman’s campaign.
Weyer secured the largest portion of votes in the Aug. 13 primary, but it was a close race, with Weyer earning 4,576 votes to Rothman’s 4,297. The Nov. 8 general election could swing either way.
The majority of primary voters – 6,515 people – chose candidates other than Weyer and Rothman, and more than 2,700 voters in District 2 didn’t vote in the council race at all. The general election will likely be decided by those who voted “blank” in the primary and supporters of losing primary candidates Chad Tsuneyoshi, Racquel Achiu and Lupe Funaki.
Voters will begin to receive their ballots by mail on Oct. 21.
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