As basic supervisor of three main tv stations in Honolulu, Rick Blangiardi oversaw the market’s most-watched newscasts for practically 20 years. But over the previous yr, Blangiardi started making headlines of his personal.
Blangiardi took workplace earlier this month as the brand new mayor of Hawaii’s capital — successful in a landslide after a blistering 11-month marketing campaign that included extra twists than a TV drama (together with a pandemic that upended his platform). It additionally posed a singular problem to his former information division, which had to work out how to cowl its former boss.
Media leaders like Bob Iger and Jeff Zucker have flirted with the concept of getting into politics over time, however few have adopted via with it. Blangiardi, who spent $500,000 of his personal cash to fund a run for mayor, is the uncommon TV exec to have really pulled it off.
“I did not need to keep on the dance too lengthy in broadcast, however I’ve been blessed with some actually good vitality and I knew I needed to do one thing that mattered,” says Blangiardi, who turned 74 in September. “It’s a extremely high-impact job. It’s an operator’s job. In some methods it is akin to what I in all probability did in broadcast.”
Blangiardi was already a well-known face on the town when he made the pivot to politics, having appeared recurrently on digital camera to ship editorials and commentary on the stations he ran. Decades earlier, he was an on-air analyst for University of Hawaii soccer (the place he coached earlier than entering into TV). He completely returned to Honolulu in 2002 after stints on the mainland working stations in Seattle and San Francisco, in addition to the River City Broadcasting and Telemundo station teams.
“In broadcast, you are holding a license with the FCC, so in some methods, it is nearly a quasi-governmental place in that you just function the general public belief,” he says of how he thinks TV ready him for the mayorship. “And I feel broadcast is a good disaster administration job. No two days are ever the identical.”
As GM, Blangiardi provides he was happy with the information workforce’s investigative tales that made a distinction, however felt he might make much more of an influence by shifting to an elected function: “If you really need to become involved in among the extra systemic points, you want to have that sort of formal authority and that is one of many issues that you just get within the mayor’s workplace,” he says.
Blangiardi mentioned he had been approached prior to now to contemplate politics, but it surely was the mixture of an possession change at his stations (which have been bought by Gray Television in 2019), a hand-picked successor prepared to take over and an open mayoral race that satisfied him to take the leap.
Nevertheless, his determination final yr to retire from a 40-year broadcast profession — the final decade on the helm of CBS affiliate KGMB and NBC affiliate KHNL (collectively generally known as “Hawaii News Now”) — and run for mayor nonetheless stunned his colleagues. “I used to be somewhat bit shocked,” says Hawaii News Now information director Scott Humber. “I’ll inform you the complete 11-month election cycle was not straightforward. We knew there could be a goal on our again proper in the beginning that no matter what we did individuals would criticize us; individuals would simply say that we’re shilling for him.”
Blangiardi says he thought Hawaii News Now overcompensated by being further powerful, and Humber says that may very well be true: “We have been simply as laborious on him as we have been on all the opposite candidates, possibly even somewhat bit tougher. Just as a result of we knew that we would have liked to be and I additionally knew he actually might take it.”
Blangiardi’s involvement compelled Humber to rethink how the stations dealt with issues just like the mayoral debates, and finally he says Blangiardi’s rivals complained it doesn’t matter what the information division did. And now that Blangiardi has been elected, Humber says he is instructing his workforce not to reap the benefits of the truth that they’ve a private relationship with the mayor.
“I mentioned to the employees, ‘I do know you all have Rick’s mobile phone, however I do not need you to use it. You’ve received to undergo the correct channels. We cannot go down this path the place you are simply going to name him up and attempt to get a solution from him. We’ve received to set tips as to how we deal with this, even for myself.”
Says Blangiardi: “That workforce has made it clear to me that whereas they’re very happy with me and I’m additionally very concerned with them — I employed each single one in every of them and I keep in mind when a few of them received married they usually had their infants — what the function of the mayor is on this context and what it represents for individuals this place. I put a giant line within the sand after I cross over that. And I perceive that, I respect it.”
Among the problems introduced up late within the race was Blangiardi’s political identification. Honolulu mayor is a non-partisan place, and Blangiardi describes himself as a social liberal and a fiscal conservative. Blangiardi’s competitor within the ultimate runoff, Keith Amemiya, hammered him for supporting Donald Trump in 2016 (a unfavourable on this Democratic-leaning state).
“I’m an impartial individual. I’m a man who voted for Barack [Obama] twice and Bill Clinton twice, however I could not vote for Hillary [Clinton],” he says. “I predetermined as a result of that if I received requested that query [about voting for Trump] that I’d not evade it. As a broadcaster all these a few years, I’ve had to be an impartial individual. I voted on either side. Am I conservative? Yeah. But I’m liberal on a variety of social points, I would not label myself Republican.”
Blangiardi additionally distances himself from Trump in a single particular method: Coming from the information media, he does not demonize it.
“I do not understand them to be the enemy,” he says. “My level is sort of the antithesis of the nationwide rhetoric about faux information and no matter. I’ve a excessive regard for the trustworthiness and the accountability and the significance of native information and what it means, as a conduit to the individuals who reside right here. I do know what they characterize, so for me it actually operates with a respect to who they’re and never believing that they are going to play gotcha as a lot as they are going to maintain me accountable.”
Both Blangiardi and Amemiya campaigned as political outsiders, however Humber credit Blangiardi’s success on his communication abilities, honed over time as each a soccer coach and a broadcaster.
“The one factor that Rick does is talk,” Humber says. “He might over talk an excessive amount of typically. Given his soccer background, he handled this place like a soccer workforce. He was the top coach, and all of us knew it.”
Blangiardi additionally credit his market analysis, one other device he introduced over from his broadcast TV expertise. “If you actually understood the worth of that analysis you sort of embraced it use it as a blueprint for motion, attempting to perceive that the tales within the shift and the populations and the degrees of curiosity,” he says. “So, after I determined to run in January we went out and did a giant examine.”
He mentioned the analysis, weighted otherwise throughout all demographics on Oahu, checked out title recognition, key points for voters and high attributes of what individuals needed within the subsequent mayor. Blangiardi mentioned the report got here again with “management,” “trustworthiness” and “decisiveness.” “I knew then that my desk was set for an outsider to make a run of this,” he says. “I did not understand how far I might take it, I’ve by no means achieved this earlier than, however I felt good about doing it.”
Blangiardi initially received into the race targeted on points together with homelessness, fast transit, inexpensive housing and infrastructure. But now that COVID-19 has impacted the state’s economic system, which depends closely on tourism, the brand new mayor says his precedence is financial restoration.
“Forget how a lot cash I used to be making however I gave up a job I cherished,” Blangiardi says. “I used to be beneath contract, I might have stayed. I had to take a yr of my life off to get this job which is a giant threat on the time while you depend the years fairly rigorously.
“If we do that nicely, the workforce I’m going to put collectively, myself, this may very well be essentially the most gratifying work of my life,” he provides.