Surrounded by family and friends, Former Big Island Mayor Stephen Yamashiro died last night in the Hilo Medical Center.

Attorney Ted Hong, who served in Yamashiro’s cabinet, visited with the former mayor just hours before he died.

He said Yamashiro was one of Hawaii County’s “best mayors” and a strong leader with a clear vision for the County who did not pander and go for the ‘politically correct’ solution.

Yamashiro successfully guided the County through the recession during the 90’s without increasing taxes or laying off employees and was instrumental in bringing direct flights from Japan to Hawaii County, Hong said. Yamashiro also helped geothermal energy become a reliable part of the energy grid in Hawaii County and pioneered a fund to help assist and relocate homeowners who lived close to the geothermal wells, Hong said.

“Mayor Yamashiro believed in an open, transparent and accountable government, allowing media access to all County operations that no other Mayor before or since has done. He reached across to his political opponents, asking Russell Kokubun, a former competitor in the Mayor’s race, to head the Planning Department. His vision for Hawaii County sought to help Kailua-Kona and Puna grow and prosper. He was a major supporter of the Merrie Monarch Festival and Native Hawaiian culture. He saw the future and potential of Hawaii County and its people and took bold steps to realize that potential,” Hong said.

“I will miss him because he was a mentor for many politicians and community activists. He didn’t care about political labels, only whether people were going to make a positive difference for Big Island residents. He loved living on the Big Island and was active and concerned to the end. His leadership and vision will be sorely missed.”

Mayor Billy Kenoi said: “Mayor Yamashiro loved this community, and was a loyal friend and mentor to many. He was always ready with advice and suggestions, sharing generously of his many years of experience as a community leader. He will be missed, and I want to offer my condolences to his wife Della.”

“As Hawai‘i County Council chairman and mayor, Mayor Yamashiro led our community through a very difficult transition period. As the last of the plantations closed in the 1990s, the Big Island was searching for new directions, and Mayor Yamashiro helped steer our island community into the future. His support and advocacy of sectors such as diversified agriculture, forestry and geothermal power are still paying dividends for our residents today. He knew where we needed to go, and he led the way. We are grateful for Mayor Yamashiro’s many contributions to our community.”

Yamashiro, who was mayor of the Big Island from 1992 to 2000, was succeeded by Big Island Mayor Harry Kim. Yamashiro was battling health issues since 2003.

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