Traffic, taxes top candidate concerns
By Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Johnny Brannon
The neighborhoods just west of Honolulu's urban core have grown and matured in the decades since 'Aiea was a sugar mill town and Pearl City was a new bedroom community. Freeways and shopping malls now give much of the area a semi-urban feel, and much of the traffic that chokes O'ahu flows past or through.
Many of the modest, tidy homes that fill the ridges and valleys are aging fast, but are more costly than ever. Many of the residents are aging, too, and some struggle with the tax increases that rising home values trigger.
But others are lured to the area by its safe neighborhoods, the convenience of living close to town, and the weekend shopping opportunities.
"We're really happy with 'Aiea," said Bryson Dang, who moved there from Mililani with his wife a few years ago. "Everything seems good except for the traffic. I had a couple of secret routes that I used to take, but when it's bad, it's bad. There's no way around it. Even the side roads are full nowadays."
City Councilman Gary Okino has represented the district since 2000, and was re-elected unopposed in 2002.
He's being challenged this time by Inam Rahman, a physician known as "Dr. Noodles," and by Kenneth Harmeyer, a truck driver who's new to politics.
Okino, a retired city planner, said traffic congestion and high property taxes are among his main concerns in the district. He strongly supports the rail transit system that's proposed for O'ahu, and said it would provide a much-needed alternative to driving.
"I think that's the only answer, the only significant thing that's going to make a difference," Okino said.
Traffic often floods into the district's neighborhoods when commuters try to bypass jammed freeways, and the problems are just getting worse, he said.
Okino said he also hopes to increase property tax exemptions for seniors 65 and older. The district's population is aging, and many people are being squeezed, he said.
At City Hall, Okino is known as a conscientious council member who's not afraid to oppose the majority but doesn't hold permanent grudges. He's voted against entire city budgets after arguing that too much money was being directed toward unnecessary pet projects, for example.
Though his stances have sometimes left him politically isolated, he said it's usually more important to take principled stands than to make convenient deals.
"Although I may be the lonely voice, at least there's a voice out there taking the other position, what I think is the right position," Okino said. "So even if it might go against me, there's a voice speaking for what I think is right, and what is best for the common good."
He publicly supported Mayor Mufi Hannemann's opponent, former Councilman Duke Bainum, in the 2004 election, but said he has no problem working with Hannemann now.
Rahman owns a Honolulu medical practice and specializes in internal medicine, diabetes and sports medicine. He is a former president of the Hawaii Medical Association, and hosts a weekly television program called "Health Is Wealth," on O'ahu Channel 52. Rahman said his patients gave him the nickname "Dr. Noodles" because his last name sounds so much like ramen, the popular noodle dish.
Rahman ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House as a Republican in 2004, receiving 2,101 votes in the primary election. He said he's concerned about environmental and infrastructure issues, such as garbage collection, sewage and road repair, as well as other things that impact society as a whole.
"In my mind, I think the most important issue is that we have to educate our children about values, which are very important," he said. "We need to stress on spirituality. I'm not a very religious person, but I believe in values and spirituality."
Harmeyer said he's concerned about the district's rising rents and the way they affect residents.
"I believe in rent control. When people can raise rents as much as they want, they will," he said. "We need affordable housing very badly, and I believe rent control is extremely important. I also believe people have a right to a good return on their investment, so it should follow a very specific formula."
Harmeyer said he would also like to lower property taxes for all residents equally, rather than to grant tax breaks categorically. He'd also like to require that antenna towers for mobile phone networks be camouflaged so they're less visually intrusive.
"We live in a beautiful place, and why would we want to pollute our visual environment with all these cell-phone towers absolutely everywhere?" he said.
Harmeyer said he also believes sex-related businesses should be further regulated so that they cannot be opened near churches or schools.