Keith Amemiya served Oʻahu as a business executive, nonprofit leader, and lawyer over the last 30 years. He is running for political office for the first time to serve as our Mayor of Honolulu.
Keith’s grandparents worked in the pineapple fields of Wahiawā. His father, the fifth of seven kids, played baseball and got into Punahou School and later the University of Hawaiʻi.
Keith grew up in Hawaiʻi Kai, where he played sports and went to public school through the 10th grade. When Keith was young, his mom’s mental health began to decline and his parents eventually divorced. Keith went to live with his maternal grandmother until his best friend’s family adopted him into their home.
There, Keith became like any other member of the family—doing chores on the weekends, taking a summer job at Dole Cannery, playing sports after school, and going to Punahou thanks to the generosity of his hānai family. Keith was cared for and loved by others, an experience that shaped his views about community and generosity.
Keith paid his way through the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa bussing tables, delivering legal documents as a messenger, and unloading shipping containers in a trucking company. Keith went to UH law school and after seven years as a litigator, Keith left law to become the Executive Director of the Hawaiʻi High School Athletics Association at the age of 32.
As the head of high school sports, Keith took on the problems that people before him were too afraid to touch—issues of equality among the big and small schools, between public and private schools, and the treatment of girls and boys sports. He traveled to all 95 schools across the state, sat in garage talk stories, and learned about the challenges facing families and their strengths as a community. Keith talked to student-athletes, parents, coaches, school administrators, legislators, and business executives to understand the problems facing high school sports and acted to improve the experiences and opportunities for students.
During the 2009 state budget shortfall that brought “Furlough Fridays” for schools and threatened to end all junior varsity sports at public high schools, Keith spearheaded the “Save Our Sports” Campaign. By building relationships, rallying the community, and raising over $1.5 million through a public-private grassroots effort, Keith helped keep high school athletic programs afloat through his quick actions. To this day, Keith has elevated high school sports within communities and state government as a way to address educational inequality and profoundly impact students’ lives.
When neighbor island kids couldn’t have the same opportunities on their home islands, he took in one Molokaʻi student, Kalei Adolpho, into his home so she could train in a program offered on Oʻahu. Kalei received a scholarship to UH, playing volleyball and basketball, and returned back to her home community of Molokaʻi as a teacher and coach in Molokaʻi public schools.
The challenges and generosity of thousands of families cemented Keith’s commitment to public service. The families who had the least were also the ones who gave the most. Communities rallied together whenever one of their own was in need. But communities should not be left to fend for themselves. From our current housing crisis to the failure to adequately address homelessness, and the fear of rising crime, Keith believes the same old style of politics doesn’t work. And that’s why Keith is running for mayor.
As a nonprofit leader, Keith always put the needs of the community above self-interest. As an executive of a local business, he understands how to act decisively and collaboratively. And as mayor, he will bring people together to solve Oʻahu’s biggest problems.
This election will decide whether Oʻahu will be a place that our future generations can call home. We can choose the same kind of politics that acts in self-interest and proposes the same solutions or we can choose something new. Keith is the new leadership that we need—someone unafraid to take on the biggest problems, to bring people together for a place we love, and to act not for ourselves but for our future generations.