Kawakami For Kauai

Mayor Derek Kawakami aims to inspire the next generation of Kaua‘i leaders by encouraging educational endeavors such as reading and creativity.

It’s been a productive first 100 days in office for Mayor Derek Kawakami, who hopes to inspire the next generation of leaders.

After four months in office, Mayor Derek Kawakami and his team are hitting their stride. “It feels like things are really falling into place,” he says. “I’m in that sweet spot where things are good.”

From appointing a new cabinet to convening an affordable housing summit, Kawakami has checked off five of the top goals he set forth for his first 100 days in office. It’s been a whirlwind of a process so far, to hear him tell it, and much of it Kawakami credits to his team.

“Everybody in this office had been red-lining,” he says. “It’s a blitz, a full-on sprint. They are fine-tuning this machine, so it operates efficiently, effectively and still allows me to take care of my health — physically, mentally and spiritually.”

Balance and quality of life are two central themes for this mayor. Yet, it is not always easy to find that equilibrium when the issues are complex.

As mayor of Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau, Derek Kawakami already has worked on issues relating to infrastructure, sustainability, the homeless population and the high cost of living.

Whether it is the increasing homeless population, high cost of living, infrastructure issues or sustainability, Kawakami is constantly trying to find the right balance to bring about the best quality of life for his constituents.

In describing one of his governing life philosophies, Kawakami holds out his hands to represent science and art.

“Everything in life, whether it’s raising kids, being a husband, running an organization or being a worker boils down to the fact that everything in life is art and science.”

The latter, he explains, is definitive, with a cause-and-effect that takes place. From his father Charles, Kawakami learned how to lead, empower and take care of others.

While his father taught him the science of business, his mother Arlene taught him the art of life.

“There is the craft, the art of how you deal with people, how you build relationships, how you build trust, keep energy levels high, morale good, how you respond to adversity,” Kawakami explains.

“As far as who I am as a person, of course, both parents played a huge role, but my mom … there is no love like a mother’s love. I miss her.”

Kawakami lost his mom in September 2016. His dad died three months later.

“I don’t think my mom and dad ever thought I would be the mayor of Kaua‘i,” he continues. “They always believed in me, but I wasn’t the ‘A’ student. I wasn’t the most clean cut (kid). I wouldn’t call myself an obedient child.”

Still, the reality of the moment is that Kawakami seems to be on a mission to do right by his family. His goal is to honor the generation of his parents, while simultaneously being accountable to his children’s generation.

In many ways, Kawakami and his administration offer an important shift in Kaua‘i’s political landscape in a movement he hopes bridges the gap between past and future.

The mayor of Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau offers sage advice to the island’s next generation of leaders.

“I told a bunch of high school kids that people told me I’m too young, I’m too inexperienced, not smart enough,” he recalls. “And, you know what, every step of the way I chose to use that as fuel to my engine.”

He believes every generation puts their hope and faith into the next — to be better and do better.

“A lot of people are putting their faith and trust in this team, which is a different generation,” Kawakami says. “It’s been a long time since the islands of Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau have given a new generation a chance to lead, so we bear that burden on our shoulders with a level of seriousness that we cannot fail.”

Now, with the State of the County address completed and the budget for the new fiscal year submitted, Kawakami and his team are in the midst of budget reviews and briefings with the County Council.

“We’re going to be wrong sometimes, but nobody’s going to accuse us of being afraid to take a chance or being afraid to do something because of the possibility of failure,” Kawakami continues. “We’re a generation that’s willing to do things differently because we understand to reach some of these solutions is going to require a different approach. Nothing changes if nothing changes.”