Crucial mayoral election begins in Yokohama

The official-two week campaign period ahead of the July 30 mayoral election for Yokohama was launched on Sunday, with two of the three candidates opposing the hosting of an IR in the city.

Kazuyoshi Nagashima, 50, was the first to announce his intention to run back in January, well ahead of the other two. Nagashima is a former one-term House of Representatives lawmaker and was once mayor of the smaller, nearby resort city of Zushi.

From the beginning he adopted the slogan “No Casino!!!” To symbolize the central theme of his campaign. Despite his early start, however, Nagashima is running as a “total independent” with no party or institutional backing. At his campaign launch there was significant Japanese media presence, but only a handful of campaign staffers.

Fumiko Hayashi, 71, is the incumbent mayor running for a third term. It was she who championed the notion of Yokohama becoming host to an IR last year, but when it became clear her opponents would be running on anti-casino platforms, she publicly backed away from her advocacy and now describes her position on IRs as “a blank slate.”

Mayor Hayashi is running with strong support from the political establishment, including the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, the Komeito party, the major labor union federation, and much of the business community. At her opening speech she had numerous young staffers wearing orange shirts, who appeared to have been hired for the occasion.

The final candidate to enter the race, Hirotaka Ito, 39, is a former Yokohama city councillor. Like Nagashima, opposition to an IR is his top campaign pledge, under the slogan, “Rather Than a Casino, Provide Lunches for Students.”

Ito is supported by part of the Democratic Party, the Japan Communist Party, and the local branch of the Liberal Party. The launch of the Ito campaign was very well organized, with green as the campaign color. Unlike the other two candidates, who spoke only to some dozens of passersby, the Ito campaign mobilized several hundred grassroots volunteers and provided a much more energetic opening event.