Uchida elected Iwaki mayor, beating incumbent, other candidates

Photo: Hiroyuki Uchida (2nd from right) throws his arms in the air together with his supporters in celebration of his first mayoral election victory, with his wife Yoko on the left.

Hiroyuki Uchida, a 49-year-old former education ministry bureaucrat running as an independent, won the mayoral election in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, on Sept. 5 following the expiration of the incumbent's term of office. It was his first victory in the city's mayoral election. Uchida garnered 45,885 ballots, 17,627 more than runner-up Noboru Usami, 54, also an independent and former House of Representatives member. The winner's vote count was 19,227 more than that of incumbent Toshio Shimizu, 58, who ran as an independent seeking to win a third term, and 20,373 more that of another independent, Kenji Igari, 59, former president of Joban Kyodo Gas. Uchida mustered support by drawing attention to his campaign pledges calling for proactive information disclosure regarding the novel coronavirus epidemic and improvement in the city's educational environment, among other themes. Voter turnout was 47.68%. A ceremony for granting the certificate of election was held at the city office on Sept. 6. Uchida's term is for four years from Sept. 28. The election, which pitted three new faces against the incumbent, was focused on the assessment of the city's administration to date and measures to battle the COVID-19 epidemic. Voters selected Uchida as the new leader as they sought renovation of the city's administration, counting on his rich administrative experience as former head of the Office for the Promotion of Educational Reform at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), and on his close ties with the central government's ministries and agencies, which he emphasized during his stumping tour. Uchida announced his bid to be Iwaki city leader in January, earlier than any other candidate, after resigning in December as a Fukushima University board member and secretary general as well as a MEXT official. He linked up with city assembly members affiliated with the Liberal Democratic Party, which is the leading partner of Japan's ruling coalition, and with labor unions as well as officials of the Fukushima chapter of Japan's largest national labor organization, Rengo, and Higashi Nippon International University, thus building an organization of supporters embracing a broad array of citizens as he entered into his election blitz. Although he was unable to organize major rallies due to the epidemic, Uchida visited every nook and corner of the city in his election drive. He carefully drew attention to the policies of great interest to citizens, such as improvement in scholastic abilities, a review of the city's crisis management system, and enhanced dissemination of information on coronavirus infections. As major political parties did not support any candidate and left it to the discretion of voters, the Uchida camp collected floating votes amid mixed trends of voter support. Usami declared his third bid for the Iwaki mayoralty at the end of June. He fought the election without depending on particular organizations, including political parties, and instead sought support from his personal connections developed and widened through his political career. He also used video clips on the internet to bump up support, though it all ended up being in vain. Shimizu unveiled his candidacy at the end of March. While political parties allowed members to vote on their own will, he received endorsement from the municipal assembly's second largest group affiliated with the Liberal Democratic Party and other supporters, endeavoring to expand his backers throughout the city on the strength of about 60 supporters' clubs. As an incumbent, Shimizu emphasized his track record of eight years served in two four-year terms while stressing the realization of "a reconstruction and disaster-resistant city" touted as a municipality strong against disasters, among other campaign promises, but stopped short of winning sufficient voter support. Igari announced his candidacy early in March. During his campaign, he floated new initiatives, including one aimed at rebuilding the city's medical care system, battered by the epidemic, and another calling for an economic reconstruction package, featuring "an Iwaki battery valley scheme" designed to accumulate a cluster of storage cell-related industries. Igari thus called attention to the "revamp of municipal politics" from the viewpoint of a business manager. Advocating municipal politics free of constraints, he sought to take advantage of his human network built as a businessman. But he failed to get his messages through to the voters. ■ "Brace self to address doctor shortage, disasters": Uchida After his election triumph, Uchida spoke to reporters as follows: "I was able to expand the scope of support thanks to the cooperation extended by many people. As the new mayor of Iwaki, I will go on with the elimination of the novel coronavirus. We are faced with a mountain of other challenging issues, including the shortage of medical doctors, the need to manage disasters, and the scarcity of people bearing agriculture. I will brace myself to address these issues." (Translated by Kyodo News)