UPDATE: Civil Beat reports that Blangiardi was involved in a 1980’s bank fraud scheme. This is one of those things that speaks to a man’s character, whether you like it or not.
Are Oahu residents prepared to help Rick Blangiardi fulfill an item on his bucket list?
When he announced that he is running for mayor, Blangiardi said it is the realization of his ambition.
Blangiardi’s candidacy, it appears, is a platitude within a cliché, without substance or comprehension of the intricate mechanism of government and the powers of the Office of Mayor.
This is why:
Though he has never run for, or been in, political office, and had not yet even filed for office, Blangiardi obtained the endorsement of SHOPO, the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers (SHOPO). If you are wondering how that went down, lets examine his ties to the police.
Wife Karen Chang was appointed to the Honolulu Police Commission by Mayor Kirk Caldwell in 2017. Chang was Board Chair of Hawaii Pacific Health and a former executive with two national financial services firms. She was appointed to the Commission by Caldwell as the scandal broke with the Kealohas.
Recall the events surrounding that scandal and the Ethics Commission. Two commissioners, Chuck Totto and Letha DeCaries, lost their jobs because they wanted to investigate discrepancies in the Kealohas’ financial disclosure forms. Instead, Mayor Caldwell ousted them. In 2015, the political establishment closed ranks around the couple and the Police Commission refused to look into Louis Kealoha. The indicted Chief was allowed to retire with his full retirement, a $250K payout, and benefits, secured by the Police Commission Mayor Kurt Caldwell’s Corporation Counsel.
In its wake, City Corporation Counsel Donna Leong received a target letter in the ongoing federal investigation into the Kealohas, because of the payout. In that probe, Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro also received a target letter.
Leong also forced Chuck Totto in 2016, Ex. Dir. of the Ethics Commission, to step down. Totto was the first person to catch on to the Kealohas, who launched an Ethics Commission investigation in 2014 after he received complaints about their use of the Chief’s Criminal Intelligence Unit and police cameras being used for their home security. The couple immediately retaliated with lawsuits that they ultimately lost.
Chang was appointed to the Police Commission to help restore public trust.
She quit the Commission – just before Blangiardi announced his candidacy.
In June, we lost the two most vocal commissioners, Loretta Sheehan, who voted against the Kealoha payout, and Steven Levinson . Both had the public’s confidence that they were doing their jobs. They left because of their frustration over the limited powers the commission has in overseeing the Police Department and its Chief, Susan Ballard.
On Jun. 28, Ballard told the Star Advertiser that “HPD doesn’t need reforms.” She called reforms “a knee-jerk reaction for things that are going on on the mainland.” This, in spite of the fact that 20 people were shot at the hands of HPD officers 2018-19. She also opposes measures to make public those officers who are disciplined, which is at the heart of the matter. HPD is also slow to get their body cameras rolled out, though the roll-out started in August 2018.
Most troubling, so much so that it is an issue in the prosecutor’s race, is the high incarceration rates of certain ethnic minorities and homeless individuals.
That police commission was formed to perform oversight precisely in these instances.
In a recent debate, Blangiardi said he agrees with Ballard. Everything at HPD is hunky dory. No need for more reforms or police transparency. See where I’m going with this?
(It should be noted that Keith Amemiya was also a police commissioner.)
Some might find it “comforting” to see Blangiardi with his big hands clasped in a prayer-like clasp, telling us that he will take care of us. It is unclear whether or not Oahu needs another paternalistic politician in the Mayor’s Office.
For many years, Hawaii has seen Rick Blangiardi in “Local Connections” on Hawaii News Now. Because of that, some may find him familiar and comfortable. They may feel they know him.
What we actually know is that Blangiardi can read his cue cards well.
Rumors swirl about a legendary temper. No one is talking.
It should also be noted here that the candidates allegedly agreed not to campaign during the COVID-19 crisis. He broke it by placing high traffic ads with Hawaii News Now – during their morning reports on COVID-19, news everyone was hanging on. That’s the news organization he formed (and managed) by merging three TV stations.
Then he announced his campaign in a well-produced campaign launch with former Republican Governor Linda Lingle, former First Lady Vicky Cayetano and several luminaries in the business world behind him.
His campaign reflects his ties to mainstream and wealthy Honolulu. Those luminaries include former CEO of the Queen’s Health System Art Ushijima, his campaign chair; former CEO of HMSA Mike Gold as his treasurer; and president and CEO of Monarch Insurance Mark Polivka as his finance chair.
His signs are ubiquitous in wealthy Kahala and Hawaii Kai. These are the same neighborhoods that supported Lingle.
Linda Lingle, supporting a candidate for mayor, is a Republican supporting a Democrat. Lingle has been a very private person for the last several years; she seems to have come out of retirement to support Blangiardi.Rumors are circulating that it’s a power grab and that she has eyes on the Fifth Floor of the Capitol again.
Lingle brings with her a formidable machine – which vaulted her into becoming Hawaii’s first elected Republican governor, first female governor, first Jewish governor, first twice-divorced and first governor without children. When she came to Oahu, Lingle leveraged a vacuum in GOP leadership, took advantage of the Republican renaissance and a weak Democratic party during a recession, and swept Cayetano out of office.
This is the machine backing Blangiardi. No small part of the picture is the incredibly expensive PR firm he’s hired to market him.
Videos showing his historic positions on controversial issues effecting Oahu today are cached in the internet time machine. (They can be purchased for a huge sum of money). However, in an article announcing his run for mayor, Hawaii News Now trips over itself with excitement. “Blangiardi has championed solving homelessness, supported the Thirty Meter Telescope and has been critical of rail,” it says, mentioning the same facts three times in the article.
A “Local Connection” Op-ed on the “Status of TMT Project” (9/19/2017), appears on the website maunakeaandtmt.org is referenced – but the story link was missing until we drew their attention to it. Like many of these op-eds, they have been scrubbed!
Blangiardi has produced slick videos for his TV commercials and social media, with each gesture and expression meticulously choreographed. With his heavy Boston accent harkening to the East Coast, wearing an aloha shirt – it is a study in contradictions. This conflict is only intensified by his slick marketing package. There is nothing casual about it.
What has become clear in debate after debate, is that Rick Blangiardi is still reading his cue cards. His words are fashioned to deliberately obfuscate. It shows that he -or his speech writer – is not sure how Honolulu City government actually functions. His words demonstrate only a peripheral grasp of the complex mechanism of government and the issues that are critical on Oahu today.
During one of the zoom debates, he was so busy reading from his script that he failed to notice his wife creeping into the frame behind him like Golom in just a t-shirt and a wine glass.
This man, who entered your living room for years with his righteous salvos, aloha shirts and hands clasped in a gesture of sincerity, is telling us that his role as a coach and media mogul positions him to conquer the mayor’s office next.
In fact, that is quite offensive. It is the subtle bigotry of low expectations. It assumes you’re not smart enough to see through the slick marketing campaign.
Being in the media, we cover the news; we don’t become the news. Our job is to tell you the facts. But a general manager who can’t keep his hands off the editorial – that’s crossing the line. And Blangiardi took all the media under his wing. He managed that message. Blangiardi has even partnered HNN with the bad boy of Hawaii media – Civil Beat – to consolidate for debates and other coverage opportunities. It’s hard to imagine they will be unbiased.
Which is precisely what happens when a guy consolidates all the news under one banner, Hawaii News Now. Which is precisely what Blangiardi did when he merged CBS affiliate KGMB and NBC affiliate KHNL to create HNN. He controlled the message, just as he is carefully concocting his own image and concocting “Rick Blangiardi, Mayor.”
Blangiardi’s campaign, with Vicky Cayetano and Linda Lingle on his team and the support of his millionaire buddies, is a vote for business as usual.
Part 2 of an investigative series on candidates for Honolulu mayor. Click to read Part 1 – Keith Amemiya. Up next Pine and Hanabusa.
**The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Hawaii Reporter.