Perhaps you’ve seen the memes on Facebook, asking “Who is Keith Amemiya?” 

Amemiya rose from nowhere to become a candidate for Mayor of Honolulu, third in the polls. Yet no one has ever heard of him before. Or have we?

His campaign message is that he is a “New Direction” and has a “fresh vision” for Hawai’i. Is it that- or is the memes true; that he is a straw-man, the latest creation of some of Hawaii’s wealthiest power brokers?

Keith Amemiya has a lot of connections to very powerful people in Honolulu. And it seems they are using those connections to get him elected mayor by supporting his campaign.

Amemiya is the son of former state Attorney General Ron Amemiya; and the cousin of Honolulu City Managing Director Roy Amemiya, Jr. Reading his website, “About Keith,” one would never know that Amemiya grew up in the halls of power. There is no mention of these prominent family members. 

Credit: Amemiya for Mayor 2020

Keith Amemiya, it seems is the heir-apparent, pushed to the forefront of the mayoral campaign to keep the old ball rolling in their court.

Amemiya also has ties to the current governor (Ige) and mayor of Honolulu (Caldwell).

Ige is the one who has failed to take decisive action – on anything, but specifically on the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Caldwell is the one who has taken advantage of the silenced halls of government to give everyone a 3% raise and to restart the Waimanalo sports complex, putting protestors, security and first responders at risk of becoming infected during this crisis.

Grab -‘n -Go

Now, let’s look at Amemiya’s ties with Marcus Mariota and the Motiv8 Foundation, as an example.

This is a joint effort between the Motiv8 Foundation and Island Holdings Foundation, two organizations that are admirably stepping up to help ensure that the most vulnerable keiki are receiving nutritious breakfasts and dinners. We applaud that, as does everyone who cares about our island home. 

The players here include Marcus Mariota, who is a buddy of Amemiya’s; Dawn Ige, the governor’s wife; and Bonny Amemiya, Keith’s wife and CFO of the aio Foundation. Mariota is a good guy – by all accounts, so that is not at issue.

aio Media Group is an empire that includes printing, publishing and broadcasting; covers leisure, business and sports; and aio digital and aio media are media marketing and engagement specialists. Very handy for a political campaign! They can skew your search results, wipe out negative comments, print signs and promote in the media.


Facebook Meme – Lois Iwashita-Brown

But there is more, as you shall see. Read on.

Keith spent most of his adult life since graduation from law school heading the Hawaii High School Athletic Foundation, which is sponsored by his major donors, including Bank of Hawaii, Hawaiian airlines, etc. 

Also, on that list is the Tokioka family; including Tyler Tokioka. Tyler is the president of Island Insurance Foundation, Island Holdings.

That is the foundation that joined with Motiv8 in the initiative to provide breakfast and lunch during the COVID-19 school shutdown.

Long before the crisis, Amemiya had already positioned himself to provide meals for kids. With his association with schools and sports, and his friendship with Marcus Mariota and association with the Motiv8 Foundation, Dawn Ige invited Amemiya to help her with the launch of Jump Start last January, along with Mariota. 

They were already feeding kids at schools. In this crisis it was just a matter of wrangling the credit for himself. To do so, he has attached his familiar campaign logo WITH HIS WIFE’S NAME ON IT – to everything associated with it. His website and his social media profiles are all about it. But the contribution accounts for only two grab-‘n-go sites – there are sites all over Oahu where people and organizations are quietly donating their time, money and efforts – because it is the right thing to do. There are so many organizations, restaurants and plain old individuals who have stepped up to serve in this critical time – without tooting their horn or taking full credit for things like Amemiya.

He and wife Bonny are just two of the many good people and institutions that have lined up to help, doing their part in this difficult time. Amemiya appears to be using it as a campaign tool.

A closer look at his campaign contributions report shows that contributions are coming in from a hui of historic players. 

That would not be a surprise – IF Keith Amemiya was a household name because he had done something to make him a well-known candidate for mayor. 

Most voters believe a great leader is someone who can transform a crisis with solutions, bring people to the table, create opportunity from misfortune, bring people together – and lead.

He’s never run for office. He has never been through a legislative process; and he doesn’t appear to have any notable political savvy. The only expertise he has shown is that he surrounds himself with powerful people to tell him what to do and create his message for him.

His most notable ties are to BFF Bank of Hawaii Chairman and CEO Peter Ho; aio Founder Duane Kurisu also of Central Pacific; Island Insurance Foundation Chairman CEO Lionel Tokioka – his boss; and Micah Kane of the Hawaii Community Foundation and Kamehameha Schools.

Other ties are to Alexander & Baldwin. Their CEO and president Christopher Benjamin, is a big donor, as is the CFO, Executive VP, Chairman, etc. 

Seems Amemiya has connections to a lot of CEOs, either as a result of the Hawaii Executive Conference, which his wife runs for aio Foundation; Island Holdings, where he is VP; or a myriad of social/political alliances through family connections or his ties to high school athletics or as a Punahou Alum. 

Executive Conference

Amemiya was a keynote speaker at the inaugural 2018 Hawaii Executive Conference, which is run by his wife Bonny. The organization is a creation of the Hawaii Executive Collaborative, which has this initiative and the CHANGE Initiative as its mission. This non-profit foundation is comprised of leaders from many different areas of commerce. They founder is Duane Kurisu. The Board includes Micah Kane and Central Pacific Company and Bank CEO John Dean.

The Hawaii Executive Conference is an annual event, where the top CEO’s in the state get together by invitation only – to tell politicians how they want things to go in the coming year. Why would anyone come to see him speak?

Amemiya, before he even started campaigning, has racked up an impressive hui of supporters that represent some of the most influential business executives and industries in Hawaii. 

Some of those connections include Alaska Air Group, Bank of Hawaii, First Hawaiian Bank, Hawaiian Hotels and Resorts, Kamehameha Schools, Straub Medical Center, The Howard Hughes Corp., OHA, Hawaii Community Foundation, Outrigger Enterprises, Central Pacific Bank, Hawaii Pacific Health and HECO. 

Contributors as of the last reporting period include CEOs Martha Smith, Hawaii Pacific Health/Kapiolani Women’s and Children’s; Deborah Berger, chair of the Hawaii Community Foundation; Stanley Kuriyama, chairman of Alexander & Baldwin; Alan Oshima, president and CEO of HECO; Micah Kane, president and CEO of Hawaii Community Foundation and board member Kamehameha Schools; as well as many asset management groups. 

Among his biggest donors are executives at aio. Founder Kurisu is one of the wealthiest men in Hawaii. He also is an owner of the San Francisco Giants. Micah Kane, CEO and president of the Hawaii Community Foundation, and board chair of Kamehameha Schools, has partnered with Kurisu to build Kahauki Village. 

Kane’s organization just received a $3 million donation from Bank of Hawaii. 

Building homes for the poor is a great thing – and a great visual, as is feeding the hungry. The partnering afforded these men the opportunity to create powerful public-private partnerships and has established them on the top of the food chain.

But such things are, as we know, often distractions – a shell game – when things are taking place under the radar. It’s the kind of stuff that makes Hawaii’s residents shake their heads and ask why – like the Sherwood Forest situation. Trust no one, especially when there is a tight hui surrounding them and protecting them. In fact, it discourages many from voting because nothing changes.

Kane and Kurisu are collaborators who share a vision for the future of Hawaii.

Status Quo

Could Amemiya be a convenient medium, if he wins the mayoral election, to further their vision? What is the vision? How does all that tie in with – a SPORTS COMPLEX IN WAIMANALO? It would be an extension of the status quo of Ige and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

Ige and Caldwell, Ige’s erstwhile collaborator, missed the opportunity for what could have been a slam dunk to keep COVID-19 out of Hawaii altogether. That would have been possible in the first weeks, when LG Josh Green was saying we needed to stop allowing cruise ships and planes to unload passengers in Hawaii. 

At the time, the US President made us one of 11 drop-off points for travelers from effected areas – and wow, silly us, the public thought they were at least checking temperatures when people arrived.

Alas! That simple effort – which has saved lives in other countries – was not even a consideration. And when those first tourists unloaded their viral load – it went out there unchecked. 

It was a hard decision, at least a week late, but it finally happened because of the groundswell of support for LG – who would not be silenced. 

The drumbeat from hospitality unions, hotels and airlines was incessant – until those who were being exposed, the everyday worker, finally rose up and said “no.”

It’s been a hardship for all of Hawaii that may take years to overcome. When was the last time you saw a beach free of tourists? Not in our lifetime. Look but don’t touch. Stay home.

But at least maybe, we won’t have what happened in Italy or NYC happen here. Maybe. 

Humble Beginnings?

On his campaign website, Amemiya has painted a picture of a guy whose mother suffered a mental illness; whose father divorced her and sent him to live with his grandmother until he was adopted by another, family. He doesn’t name them. They are Harriett and Bert Kobayashi Jr. Bert Kobayshi is one of the state’s leading and most well-known attorney’s specializing in commercial litigation and government affairs. Somehow, “thanks to the generosity of his hānai family,” he ended up at Punahou.

He says he worked his way through high school, college and graduate school, like all the rest of us. Sure.

It is reminiscent of the Obama story: “poor son of a single mother”. But Obama’s mom, Ann Dunham had three advanced degrees in anthropology and a distinguished career. She worked as a consultant for the United States Agency for International Development, the Ford Foundation, and Bank Rakyat Indonesia, focusing on microcredit and microfinance. Barack Obama Sr. was a graduate of Harvard University with an MA in economics. His stepdad, Lolo Sotero, was a Senior Economic Analyst in the Ministry of Finance in Kenya. Obama stayed in Hawaii with his grandparents to attend Punahou while his mom did fieldwork in Indonesia. It’s not really a hard-luck story.

Amemiya spent time with his grandmother, Kimi Amemiya, who died at the age of 96 in 2002. Her obit reads like a who’s who of the AJA community in Hawaii. 

She worked hard, to be sure; and she was self-taught, by all accounts, with only a few years of formal schooling. She was a store clerk, a pineapple field worker, a coffee grower a pastry chef and a seamstress. Her husband, Keifuku, worked for Dole. She lived in a time and place when women worked with babies on their backs and scrubbed laundry by hand.

Among her progeny: in addition to Ron and Roy, Corinne Watanabe is an Associate Judge who served as a deputy attorney general for the State of Hawaii and Chris is a genetics researcher and University professor.

This is the first in an investigative series on candidates for Honolulu mayor. Up next Hanabusa, Pine and Blangiardi.

**The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Hawaii Reporter.