BY JIM DOOLEY – Governor-elect Neil Abercrombie has announced his first cabinet appointments, naming a woman, Jodie Maesaka-Hirata, as head of the Department of Public Safety and longtime state harbor agent William Aila, Jr., 52, as chairman of the Department of Land Natural Resources.
Maesaka-Hirata, 44, is now the acting warden of the Waiawa Correctional Facility.
Abercrombie, who will be sworn into office next week, also named banker and businessman Richard Lim, 59, to head the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.
Abercrombie nominated Alapaki Nahele-a as director of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and Robert “Bobby” Hall as department deputy director.
Nahale-a, 42, of Hilo, is now executive director of the Hawaii Charter Schools Network. Hall, 57, is a career state employee, working now as executive assistant in DHHL. He is also an accomplished professional musician, working as a founding member of the Peter Moon Band.
Abercrombie acknowledged that Maesaka-Hirata’s name is unknown to the public but he said he “knew from almost the moment she spoke with us that she would be my selection for the director of Public Safety.”
“She’s not a political power, she’s not someone who has participated in the back rooms or the inside of politics. She’s been doing her job. She’s going to be leading the most innovative Department of Public Safety in the United States,” said Abercrombie.
Aila, now harbor agent at the state’s Waianae small boat harbor, has “the institutional memory, the talent, the credibility, the support of not only those working in DLNR but those affected by DLNR,” said Abercrombie.
Nahale-a and Hall are the only departmental director and deputy director to have been selected to date by the governor-elect. He called them a “team” that will lead Hawaiian Home Lands “not just in a new direction but a positive direction for Hawaiians and Hawaii.”
Lim has served as president of International Savings and Loan and of City Bank and is now managing partner of Sennet Capital, a Hawaii merchant bank that he co-founded in 2006.
Abercrombie said he “couldn’t be happier” that a man of Lim’s stature and accomplishments had agreed to serve in the cabinet.
The names of the proposed directors will be referred to the state Senate for confirmation proceedings.
Abercrombie also said his communications and public relations team will be headed by Josh Levinson, 34, who worked as a field organizer in the Abercrombie political campaign and who is the son of former Hawaii Supreme Court Justice Steven Levinson.
Deputy Communications Director will be Laurie Au, 26, also an Abercrombie campaign aide who formerly worked as a Honolulu Star Bulletin reporter.
Abercrombie’s chief spokesperson will be Donalyn Dela Cruz, 35, former press secretary for U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka and one-time local television reporter.