Seven seek House seat in Kalihi Valley district
By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Mary Vorsino
Seven people who have never been elected to public office are vying for the state House seat whose boundaries stretch from Kalihi Valley to Fort Shafter.
No other legislative race has as many candidates. And without an incumbent, there are no clear front-runners as the race heats up heading into the primaries.
Four Democrats, one Republican, one nonpartisan and one Green Party member are in the running for the District 30 seat. Rep. Dennis Arakaki, a Democrat, had held the spot from 1986 until last year, when he decided not to seek re-election.
Residents say they're looking for a candidate who pledges to respond to new challenges facing the district, from an aging population to infrastructure concerns.
The district has about 23,000 people, more than a third of whom are over 65, according to 2000 Census figures. There is also a higher incidence of poverty in the district than for the O'ahu population as a whole, with about 16 percent of families with children under 18 living below the poverty line, Census estimates show.
The community is a mix of longtime residents and new immigrants, who tend to spend shorter stints in Kalihi Valley. In 2000, more than half of those in the district — about 13,250 people — had lived in the same house since 1995.
Meanwhile, the homeownership rate in the area is 54.5 percent, nearly mirroring the O'ahu average and higher than neighboring Kalihi.
Maryrose McClelland, who has lived in Kalihi Valley since 1948 and was a longtime member of the Kalihi Valley Neighborhood Board, said the district has seen big social changes in recent years, with the cost of living soaring and crime increasing.
"People here work two or three jobs just to pay the mortgage and they don't have time to volunteer," McClelland said. "We have a lot of latchkey children."
Also, she said, poor maintenence and few upgrades have left the district's roads, sewer lines and drainage systems in dire need of repairs. Much of Kalihi Valley was built up in the 1930s and '40s, when the district saw a construction boom and population spike.
Most of the community's more than 5,500 homes were built between 1940 and 1959, Census estimates show. Some 480 homes were built in 1939 or earlier.
Among the candidates, infrastructure is a key issue.
The four Democrats who will face off in the primary — Charmaine Crockett, John Mizuno, Terry Visperas and Bill Woods — all said they want to better prepare the district for growth over the next generation by revamping public services.
Already, they said, there is too much stress on everything from water lines to roads.
"For me, this is a public safety issue," Crockett said. "We're up for some major challenges. All of us bear all of the responsibility."
Candidate Rick Manayan, the lone Republican, added that hosts of infrastructure problems in Kalihi Valley and neighboring Alewa Heights have been largely overlooked in recent years even as other communities see large-scale improvement projects — roads, sidewalks, sewage mains and drainage systems.
Arakaki said he often heard complaints about infrastructure during his tenure. Most were relayed to the City Council or city agencies, where Arakaki would act as an advocate to make sure the concerns were addressed.
"A lot of it had to do with roads, sewer and trash pick-up," said Arakaki, who is now a community relations director at nonprofit Common Grace. "Those are the things that bothered them."
Frank DeGiacomo, who recently joined the Green Party to run in the district, said he wants to see more money funnelled into Kalihi Valley for infrastructure.
"We've been getting the short end of the proverbial stick for the last 20 years," he said. "If anything's going to change for the district, we need stronger advocates."
Kalihi resident Dana Patria, who joined the race "on the spur of the moment," agreed.
He added that oftentimes the look of the community and its neighboring districts — from litter piling up on streets to run-down parks — contribute to criminal activity.
With so many people in the running for House District 30, candidates say they're working hard to reach voters. "You've got a number of candidates. I would say this must be the most exciting race," Mizuno said. "I look forward to the challenge."
Many of those in the running have been walking the neighborhoods, saying they know it will be a tough race and have started early to get voters on their side. Several also made a presentation at a recent Kalihi Valley Neighborhood Board meeting.
"This race is really special," Visperas said. "We all bring a fresh focus for the community."
The top Democrat in the primary, along with Republican Manayan and Green Party member DeGiacomo, will qualify for the general election.
Patria, a nonpartisan, will only advance to the general election if he receives at least 10 percent of the total votes cast in the primaries or gets a vote equal to the lowest vote received by a partisan candidate who was nominated in the primary election.
Reach Mary Vorsino at email@example.com.
Correction: In a previous version of this story, the Web site for House District 30 candidate Charmaine Crockett was omitted. Her site is www.charmainecrockett.com. Also, Crockett was incorrectly identified as an advocate for a nonprofit organization called Kahea: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance. She is a former staff member in charge of development and outreach for Kahea.