Photo/Illutration Hachiro Okonogi, a Lower House member with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, announces his intention to contest the Yokohama mayoral race in August during a news conference on June 25. (Hiroyuki Takei)

YOKOHAMA--Hachiro Okonogi quit his Cabinet post to run in this summer’s Yokohama mayoral election to thwart government plans to open an integrated resort that would allow gambling in the nations second most populous city.

Okonogi, a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, resigned as chairman of the National Public Safety Commission on June 25 before holding a news conference to announce he would contest the race to be held Aug. 22.

“If I do become mayor, the first thing I will do is stop the integrated resort plan” in the bayfront area, Okonogi, 56, told reporters.

Okonogi currently represents a Lower House district in Yokohama that borders the one held by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

The LDP at the national level has promoted integrated resorts as a way to lure more tourists to Japan.

But Okonogi explained at the news conference that he began having doubts about the plan for Yokohama last December due to strong local opposition and concerns about the novel coronavirus pandemic, then on the brink of a third wave.

He concluded that now is not the right time to embark on such a project for the port city adjacent to Tokyo.

Okonogi said he explained his opposition to Suga and in late May told the prime minister he planned to run in the Yokohama mayoral race. The meeting ended amicably.

During the last mayoral election in 2017, the incumbent mayor, Fumiko Hayashi, said she had not yet decided whether the casino plan was a good idea.

Earlier, she came out in full support of the plan. Her later ambivalent stance was seen as a factor behind her winning a third term.

But she angered many voters in August 2019 when she said the casino project was back on. That led to a petition campaign that gathered 190,000 signatures calling for a referendum on the casino project. But the Yokohama city assembly rejected the request.

A number of other candidates, including those backed by opposition parties, have already thrown their hats in the ring, and almost all of them oppose the casino plan.

Hayashi herself has not yet announced whether she will seek a fourth term.

(This article was written by Nanako Matsuzawa, Yushin Adachi and Hiroyuki Takei.)