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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, October 27, 2002

State officials vie for city seat

 •  Map: Honolulu City Council District 9

By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Staff Writer

Nestor Garcia and Michael Nakamura have decided to give up state elected office to pursue a seat on the City Council. Now it's up to Central Oah'u voters to determine who is better suited for the task.

After coming in second in the primary election, Nakamura, a retired police chief and Board of Education member, needs to sway thousands of voters if he hopes to overtake state Rep. Garcia, D-37th (Waipahu, Crestview), in the general election.

In the Sept. 21 primary, Garcia received 8,079 votes to Nakamura's 5,274. But Nakamura has not turned to traditional tactics of signwaving and fund-raising.

"I intentionally placed my campaign at a disadvantage," he said. "We don't sign-wave because coming from the police department background, and as a former police chief, I cannot compromise public safety for a single vote."

Council District 9

Nestor Garcia

• Address: 94-593 Lumiaina St., Waikele

• Occupation: Vice president of corporate communications for City Bank, state representative

• One big idea: "I want to see how the city can get involved in the discussion of decentralizing education. Historically, we're involved only in the construction aspects of the schools, and I want to see how much further we can get. Eventually the city has to come to the table."

Michael Nakamura

• Address: 95-415 Lauawa St., Mililani

• Occupation: Retired police chief, lecturer at Honolulu Community College

• One big idea: "Restore the public's confidence in the City Council and the political process of the city, and help to restore the credibility of the entity."

Instead of signs, Nakamura said he drives two vans detailed with his name, talking story with people in the district. He and his volunteers also wear campaign T-shirts on community cleanups.

"We're busy bending over and picking up beer bottles and soda bottles and paper," he said. "It's a positive way of at least seeing someone in action."

Nakamura, 55, who is finishing his term on the Board of Education, said his experience as police chief makes him a better candidate for the city position. "I understand city government more than the state," he said.

He also understands the call for public safety, and said more police officers are needed. The city should increase their pay and offer fringe benefits, such as improving their schedules or supplementing their education, he said.

It isn't just a matter of parity with the other state unions, Nakamura said. "We need to step above and beyond that." The city should make police pay a priority, even if it means eliminating "fluff projects" such as Sunset on the Beach, he said.

"I don't believe we need to raise taxes, at this point. If you review the budget, if you look at the different projects, there are a lot of nice things that have a lack of critical need. I believe we can cut back in those areas."

Garcia, 45, also opposes raising taxes until the city's financial books can be audited. "I'm really leery of hitting people in the pocketbook unless I can show them I have my spending under control," he said.

Garcia wants to bring more revenue to Hawai'i by "taking care of the engine that drives the economy — tourism — in this case, Waikiki."

He also wants to promote his district as a destination for sports tourism, with the new Central O'ahu Regional Park and Waipi'o Peninsula Soccer Stadium.

Vice president of corporate communications for City Bank, a former broadcast journalist and press secretary to U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye, Garcia also has focused on public safety, at the state level.

"As Public Safety and Military Affairs chair, I was able to put into place some measures big and small that will address prison overcrowding and get at the root of some of our crimes," he said. One involved helping nonviolent drug offenders get treatment.

"I feel I've done what I could and now I can move on," he said.

Although public education is a state issue, Garcia said: "I want to see how the city can get involved in the discussion of decentralizing education."

Beyond building schools, he would like to address the liability issues when public school children play at city parks.

Garcia also wants to bring together the diverse communities in his district: Waikele, where he lives, and Waipahu, Village Park, Makakilo, Kunia and Mililani Town. "We all come together on the H-1/H-2 merge, so we're not completely strangers," he said.

Issues that unite the communities include traffic and finding an alternative to the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill.

Garcia said he fought a new landfill in Kunia when it came before the Legislature, and plans to continue opposing it at the city level. "I'm getting tired for this side of the island being a dumping ground for projects like this," he said.

To Nakamura, integrity is the key election issue.

"I think integrity is at the root of a lot of our problems," he said. "A lot of politicians get into the arena with good intentions... but if they don't have strong character, they get sidetracked."

"The reason I'm throwing my hat in the ring (is because) I was in a position of power as police chief, and I don't feel it affected me as it did other people. I have a record of performance that can be scrutinized very carefully."

Among the things he wants to reconsider is the city's process for awarding bids, especially in light of highly publicized cost overruns on city projects.

"People come in with low bids and eventually make up their initial loss with the change orders that come in after they secure the contract," he said.

Nakamura, who has spinal muscular atrophy and uses a motorized scooter, said he wants people to know he is not sick and that the condition had nothing to do with his decision to retire from the police force after more than seven years as chief.

"My brain, my heart and my mouth still work, and more importantly for my voters, my ears still work, so I can listen," he said.

Reach Treena Shapiro at tshapiro@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.

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