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Mayoral friendships tainted by Henoko airfield controversy

Date Posted: 2009-12-31

Nago City Mayor Yoshikazu Shimabukuro has been supportive of plans to build an airfield at Henoko to replace the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station in Ginowan City; his probable challenger in the upcoming January mayoral election is opposed to the idea, and their positions are causing friction in their friendship.

Susumu Inamine, a former Nago City mayor, is opposing Shimabukuro for the mayoral post, and he’s dead set against the airfield coming to Henoko. He’s a Democratic Party of Japan supporter and a loyalist to Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who has said he’ll make a decision about where to move Futenma by May 2010. Their predecessor, Takeo Kishimoto, supported the Futenma relocation to the Nago City area, and following his death his influence was enough to get the Okinawa Prefecture governor to agree to the Henoko construction, which includes a pair of V-shape runways that will extend into Oura Bay, while other parts of the airfield are on the Marine Corps’ Camp Schwab.

Inamine and Shimabukuro used to be friends, and their friends were friends. That’s changing now because some support having the new airfield in their area, while others do not. An economist says “sure, nobody likes noisy helicopters and nobody likes military bases, but we do have to think about the economic situation and the promotion of our town and the northern part of Okinawa.” Much of the northern Okinawa area is financially distressed, and many downtown stories have closed and shuttered their doors. Some Henoko citizens are looking at the new airbase as being an economic lifeline to their community.

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