The Big Picture
Mayor Bernard P. Carvalho Jr. sits down with MidWeek Kaua’i to talk about the two grandmothers whose early influences still help define him, about how he met his wife Regina, and his vision for Kaua’i. It involves lots of small details, which fit into the ‘bigger picture’
The mayor traces his approachable personality to the two grandmothers who raised him
Mayor Bernard P. Carvalho Jr. should be exhausted. While some who take office scale back when it’s not an election year, Carvalho certainly isn’t resting on his laurels. Describing one of the most unrelenting jobs on the Garden Isle as “all heart, soul and teamwork,” the mere five hours of sleep he averages as a result isn’t for the faint of heart.
But it seems the born-and-raised Kaua’i boy wouldn’t have it any other way.
Raised by his Portuguese grandmother, who ensured the children were clean and well-fed, and his Hawaiian grandmother, who taught him “respect, aloha and humility,” Carvalho says his father worked hard as lead lineman for Kaua’i Electric, which kept him on call 24/7, to provide for the family. Attributing his drive to serve others in part to the values he learned from the matriarchs of the house, Carvalho carried those early life lessons into his own approach of parenting. By working two jobs days as a rec leader with Parks and Recreation and nights for Aloha Airlines in the freight side he enabled wife Regina to stay home with their three children.
“My parents parted when I was 10 years old, and this was a very difficult time for me, my two brothers and sister,” he says. “Knowing my upbringing, I didn’t want my children to be home alone.”
A self-proclaimed devout Catholic, Carvalho says he met his wife at church while visiting a cousin in Oceanside, Calif.
“I made no moves in church, but I did ask my cousin to introduce me one day because I was leaving back to Hawai’i in the morning,” he says. He was returning to play football for the UH-Manoa Rainbows, who had a road trip scheduled that year to play against San Diego State.
“My cousin came to the game with Regina, and the rest is history,” he says.
“My coach Dick Tomey was very instrumental to me as it relates to the game of football. He related the many real life situations and experiences to the game such as always be prepared for the unexpected, always encouraging the team concept and the importance of depending on each other for support, making sure you had a backup plan and never losing control of any situation no matter how bad, because it could result in the loss of a game due to not thinking things through.”
After his senior season, he was invited to play in the Hula Bowl all-star game, which led to a tryout with the Miami Dolphins.
Following in Dad’s footsteps, daughter Brittney is currently enrolled in the education program at UH-Manoa. Carvalho’s sons followed in his football athleticism, including Bronson, who attended Saint Louis High School on O’ahu and received a scholarship to Alcorn State University, and Brennen, who attended Kamehameha Schools and received a scholarship to Portland State before he was signed by the Green Bay Packers. Like Dad, Brennen was invited to play in the 2008 Hula Bowl.
The Kapa’a High School graduate continues to work hard, but he does take an occasional time out to relax in his garage to play ukulele and sing songs that remind him of his upbringing and kupuna.
Keeping his priorities in check God and family first, followed by everything else Carvalho says he believes in having a solid foundation, which places family side-by-side with God: “That is the only way I can find the balance in addressing the needs of our island and the tough decisions that need to be made,”says.
It was that attitude that guided him in what he recalls as the first tough decision as mayor: handling the island’s dire need for a landfill not an easy sell to the Kalaheo community that would have hosted it.
“I came into office and learned we had seven years left, and after that we wouldn’t be able to manage our waste on Kaua’i,” he says. Using the county’s Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan as a blueprint coupled with a study that recommended Kalaheo as the No. 1 site for the landfill, Carvalho set out to host community meetings for feedback.
“Every single person came out against it, of course, because no one wants a landfill in their backyard,” he says. “The community stood firm, so I thought, ‘Now what do we do?’ Lo and behold, Grove Farm stepped up to the plate,” Carvalho says, noting centrally located Kalepa had been one of the options on the potential site study.
Carvalho lights up when talk turns to getting out and “talking story” with the public regardless of whether the topic in question is a contentious one.
“I like to engage the community,” he says, “leaving it open to talk story … I want this to be a shared vision.”
It was also community feedback that directed much of Carvalho’s “Holo Holo 2020” initiative that kicked off his second term, made up of an ambitious 38 projects covering a broad range of cultural, housing and renewable energy needs, including expanding Black Pot beach park in Hanalei, creating the island’s first affordable green housing project in ‘Ele’Ele, and solving a parking conundrum with a shuttle service between Princeville and Ke’e Beach.
“A lot of it came to me through speaking to people,” Carvalho says of his list of projects, adding that he gathered suggestions, concerns, thoughts and ideas.
The quest for suggestions continues, as the idea for one of his latest pilot projects issuing Kaua’i Community College students free bus passes came out of a recent meeting with the youth advisory group he meets with every month.
“There are so many different pieces that go into some of these projects, and for many of them I want to bring them to life and make it happen,” he says.
Honoring the past while ensuring he creates his own legacy has been a diplomatic challenge, as Carvalho’s first term began in a special election following Baptiste’s sudden death in June 2008.
Though Baptiste had encouraged Carvalho to seek election following his second four-year term, Carvalho says he “wouldn’t have been beginning that process for some time.” Finding himself in his first political debate with an outspoken county councilmember and former mayor, at the time Carvalho seemed to be the dark horse.
“I remember I studied hard,” Carvalho says of prepping for what would later prove to be the first of several cram sessions for his crash course in running for office. “I totally bombed my first debate.”
Adding that this campaign lacked deep pockets, Carvalho says his first attempt at roadside sign-waving followed a poster-making session with his daughter’s volleyball friends.
“We didn’t have any money, but I had a great team and support system, and I had the heart, the drive, the soul,” he says. “I didn’t have political savvy, but I knew I was going to do whatever I could to make it happen.”
Something resonated with voters, as he locked in 14,302 votes to JoAnn Yukimura’s 9,735.
Making the rounds across the island with bear hugs and song even a campy “Together We Can” jingle to convey his campaign slogan, Carvalho quickly branded himself as the sincere and approachable candidate.
“The hugs and kisses and the singing is just part of who I am anyway,” he says. “I have always been very approachable and open to all kinds of people. I attribute that part of who I am to my grandmothers.”
Carvalho will continue to seek buy-in from the community as he works to take the county toward his vision for 2020, whether it’s creating safe routes to school, getting people more involved in health and wellness or the making a greater connectivity throughout the island.
“I’m always trying to tie it into a bigger picture and maybe it will become part of a Holo holo 2050 vision someday.”