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Onaga rolls to easy win in Naha mayor’s race

Date Posted: 2004-11-18

Voters turned out in large numbers to endorse Naha City’s approach to dealing with economic issues, and to squash an anti-military sentiment.

Takeshi Onaga swept to a wide margin victory Sunday as more than 56% of eligible voters made their voices heard in the Naha City mayoral race. With 75,292 votes, he handily defeated Suzuyo Takazato, who finished with 55,827.

The incumbent mayor campaigned on continuing reforms within city government. “It is going to be difficult,” Onaga told reporters, “but we must protect the welfare system” as we go forward.” A new plan from the Japanese Central Government places more responsibilities for economic and social issues on local governments, instead of them relying on Tokyo.

Onaga, 54, acknowledges some tough times as reorganizations and payroll cuts are made to keep the city on track. A member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, he took a calm stance on military issues, calling for parties to work together to resolve the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station closing and move. Onaga maintains there’s no need to rewrite the Special Actions Committee Okinawa (SACO) agreements that are steering the political and economic sides of the base issues. He urged Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha to get involved in rational, direct negotiations to resolve the Futenma situation.

He also pledged to quickly move forward with relocating Naha Military Port from the heart of downtown Naha City to nearby Urasoe. The project was developed in the mid-90’s, and was accepted several years ago by Urasoe Mayor Mitsuo Gima. It’s languished on the drawing boards since, largely because of the costs involved.

Challenger Suzuyo Takazato based her campaign on emotional anti-base issues, calling for closing the U.S. military bases on Okinawa. She was supported by the Socialist Peoples Party, the Communist Party and the Labor Unions. Voters rejected her premise the bases aren’t needed on Okinawa, and that peace could be achieved without them. Voters concerned with the ailing economy also didn’t buy the spending proposals she put forth.

A late entrant to the mayoral race, she never fully developed a viable campaign, although some analysts thought her appeal would cut through to women’s groups.

Onaga says he’s going to be busy in the coming four years. Aside from the critical economic issues, he wants to pursue visions of rebuilding the baseball stadium at Onayama Park. He wants to make it Okinawa’s ‘field of dreams’ for local youngsters, while at the same time having a large professional facility that will appeal to the professional baseball teams. Japan’s major league baseball teams already train each Spring in Okinawa.

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