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Irabu mayor keeps job; city merger stays intact

Date Posted: 2005-08-27

The mayor of Irabu Island keeps his job after months of bickering that pitted neighbor against neighbor, almost everyone unsure of what the future was holding.

A recall election upheld the mayor, handing him the mandate to continue leading Irabu by more than 1,000 votes.

Ken Hamagawa led the campaign to merge his small island town in Miyako with neighboring Hirara City, a union spawned by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s Trinity Reform Program that shut down bundles of money trickling from Tokyo to the prefectures, cities and villages. The merger will consolidate many operations and payrolls, leading to reduced costs for running the towns. He was convinced the move was in his community’s best interests.

Former mayor Akiyoshi Kawamitsu didn’t agree, spearheading a reform movement among opposition party leaders, demanding the merger be called off. They maintained the merger was bad for Irabu, and that the deal should be immediately undone. Hamagawa stood his ground, and opponents filed a recall petition.

Ken Hamagawa’s day came Sunday, when he emerged victorious in the recall election, picking up 2,439 votes to keep his job, against only 1,376 to oust him. “Now everybody knows that I was correct,” he said, “and I’m so proud of my residents and island.”

Kawamitzu, the former mayor, was stunned at the loss. “I can’t believe that,” he spouted. “Why? So much people are against me? They didn’t look like they were against me.” He went a step further, alleging there could “be something illegally going on behind the election. Otherwise I can’t believe the residents were against me.”

The opposition had contended there was need to have a merger with Hirara City, which they claimed was having big financial problems. Opponents felt Irabu could generate enough revenues by putting the squeeze on Shimoji Jima Airport, which prefectures and national airlines use for training. Opponents figured those groups, plus the Self Defense Forces, could pick up the tab for keeping things in Irabu the way they were.

Residents didn’t buy the argument, choosing instead to slash costs by reducing the size of city staff, payroll reductions and joining forces with another community.

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