‘Dr. Kimo’ Alameda informally announces 2024 run for Hawaiʻi County mayor on 54th birthday
July 13, 2023, 2:30 AM HST
* Updated July 13, 2:03 PM
Wednesday was special for Kimo Alameda.
Not only was it his 54th birthday, but the day also marked a significant transition in his life. He announced he would be stepping away from his positions as vice president of new business operations at Hawai‘i Island Community Health Center and lead of the Hawai‘i Island Fentanyl Task Force to enter the 2024 race for Hawai‘i County mayor.
“It could be seen as a new day, kind of a new chapter for me. A rebirth, if you will, on something bigger and something that’s more meaningful to me, which is this island,” said “Dr. Kimo,” as he’s know to many around the Big Island, during a press conference in Hilo.
The announcement was only an informal one. Alameda has plenty of thoughts, ideas and hypotheses to tackle issues, but he wants to hear from the community first.
He plans to spend the next six months listening to the people of the Big Island about their concerns and ideas for solutions. That time also will give him the opportunity to assemble a team that understands sacrifice, hard work and commitment, along with knowing what’s best for the island.
When Alameda does make it official, he wants to have a clear vision of what the community thinks should be top priorities and key solutions to the issues the island faces. Now that he is in this phase of collecting feedback from constituents and formulating his top priorities, it was the most ethical path forward to step away from the health center and fentanyl task force.
A formal announcement of his bid for mayor is expected in January of next year.
No candidates have officially begun a run for mayor. But current Mayor Mitch Roth, who is in the middle of his first term, does intend to seek a second four-year term, according to a statement provided Wednesday from his administration.
The statement said Roth has no formal announcement to make at this time, but remains steadfast in his commitment to realizing a sustainable Hawaiʻi Island that fosters the prosperity and well-being of its residents for future generations.
It goes on to say that recognizing there is much more work that needs to be done, it is crucial to prioritize the needs of the community at this time. Under Roth’s vision, the County has achieved significant progress in key areas, including advancing affordable housing development, streamlining the process for residential building permits, initiating a transition to clean energy for County vehicles and facilities and making substantial investments in long-overdue infrastructure improvements.
“We have a responsibility to the people of the County of Hawaiʻi to deliver the necessary resources and services that our residents deserve and expect,” the mayor said in the statement. “Engaging in a campaign at this time would detract from our ability to serve selflessly and fulfill our obligations to those who have placed their trust in us.”
Alameda was born and raised in the Hilo area, growing up on a ranch in Waiākea Uka. He is a graduate of St. Joseph High School and received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Hawai‘i Pacific University and a master’s degree from UH-Mānoa. He also has a doctorate in cultural, educational and psychological studies from the University of Nebraska.
“I’m just a local boy with a big vision to bring this community together and make Hawai‘i County the safest, healthiest and happiest place to live in the world,” Alameda said.
He comes with a stellar resume that includes serving as the former chief executive officer of Bay Clinic Health Center, which merged with the West Hawai‘i Community Health Center in 2021 to become Hawai‘i Island Community Health Center. He was the executive for the Hawai‘i County Office of Aging from 2015-19 and director of the Office of Health Equity of the Hawai‘i Department of Health from 2010-15.
For more on his professional background, click here.
Alameda said what gets him up every day and keeps him excited is working to keep communities safe.
“After many years of working in communities, I realized people are normally coping in a sick environment,” he said. “When there’s no housing and poor transportation and there’s not good paying jobs, that can get under people’s skin and make them sick.”
Throughout his travels around the Big Island, he’s heard stories from teachers, parents and the community in general, and he’s become troubled in what he’s hearing. Alameda said there is a sense of despair, a lack of trust and a lack of hope.
“We’re losing our local families and as a result, we’re losing our values,” he said. “There are more Native Hawaiians living outside Hawai‘i than in Hawai‘i. The Japanese cultural clubs are reporting less participants at the annual bon dances. Why? Because they’re leaving Hawai’i, too. Our Filipino neighbors, our local Caucasian families are also leaving this beautiful island, and longtime kama’aina families are leaving. So when you lose the wonderful, beautiful diversity that we have in Hawai’i, sooner or later you’re going to lose Hawai‘i.”
To tackle the issues of people moving away, scarcity of housing and the cost of living, Alameda said a serious look needs to be taken at costly overregulation. He said the state needs to be held more accountable and he would work with the governor to scrutinize regulations with an aim to deregulate as much as possible to make housing more affordable. Costs such as water, electric and other utility infrastructure also add up.
Options such as encouraging more ‘ohana housing and farm dwellings on existing properties are worth looking into, but limitations exist. There’s also other concerns including property taxes. Alameda will spend the next six months really digging into those issues and more.
On homelessness, there are mental health and addiction concerns to take into consideration — and it’s not just people moving in from elsewhere. There are many Big Island families who have found themselves without a home. Alameda said homeless sweeps don’t work if there is nowhere those people can go and thinks it is time start engaging more with the homeless population to get providers to them in an effort to better help them.
“They’re not problems,” he said about the houseless population. “They’re people.”
Alameda also offered a few comments about other topics including the fentanyl epidemic, a challenge that is only continuing but one that has garnered the support of more than 50 agencies that now are part of the Hawai‘i Island Fentanyl Task Force thanks to his and the task force’s efforts.
On climate change, Alameda said the county has a pollution problem and that the issue isn’t something far off in the future — it’s happening now. He said the new Hawai‘i County Office of Sustainability, Climate, Equity and Resilience recently created by the Hawai‘i County Council will be a good tool to help the County look at what it’s doing to tackle the issue and how to move forward. His concern is what happens when funds for those programs run out.
He thinks every mayor tries to do their best, including Roth, but he thinks he has skills and experience that are suited well to solve the problems.
Alameda is a psychologist and he brings expertise with mental health issues to the table. What he thinks the County is missing is that focus.
“I think health is everywhere,” Alameda said. “All roads lead back to health, so I am very conscientious of health and the social determinants of health. That’s my expertise. When I see research that points to the fact that when it comes to good health outcomes that one’s ZIP Code is a better predicter than one’s genetic code, we have a problem.”
While he and Roth have worked together and he’s a colleague and friend of many of the mayor’s cabinet members, he thinks his focus on action and getting results set him apart from the current administration. He also brings a lot of energy and the many relationships he’s developed through the years to the table as benefits.
His leadership style is more direct and assertive, and thanks to his work with nonprofits, he would bring more business and fiscal aspects to the mayor’s post, as well as more strategic planning efforts.
Alameda hasn’t run before because of his duties as a father to his seven children. Now that six of his kids have graduated from high school and he has only one son left at home, who is an upperclassmen in high school, he said the timing is right.
Celebrating his birthday on the day he informally announced his run for mayor reminded him that “all of us, we’re not getting any younger” and time is short.
“I think we owe it to our ancestors, we owe it to our own kids to make this place better for the future,” Alameda said. “So I try to make everyday as impactful as possible. I’ll be looking for team members who have that same kind of giveback to the island value and I think together, we can make a difference. It’s gonna be tough, it’s not gonna be easy, but it’s gonna be worth it.”
For more information about Alameda’s candidacy, click here.