After slipping-up and referring to his office as “the prosecutor’s office” in front of a couple hundred attendees at the Asia-Pacific Homeland Security Summit and Exposition Tuesday, Mayor Peter Carlisle cracked a joke about missing “the good ole days when I was putting people in jail.”

Those good ole days lasted 14 years for the former city prosecutor, who was elected mayor in a September special election. In case that one-liner didn’t draw enough of a laugh, the mayor continued with an exaggerated sarcasm in his voice as he described his current gig:

“Your pothole?” he paused for effect. “I’m on top of it.”

Then, he capped it all off with an eye-roll that could impress even the snarkiest of teenagers.

Carlisle’s well known for his sense of humor, and his public appearances often come off as performances. Some criticize the mayor for the way he presents himself. One of his opponents in the election called him nothing more than “a clown.”

But the mayor’s tone strikes a chord with others. His propensity for joke-telling helped get him elected. One woman walked up to him Tuesday and told him he was the “best public speaker in Hawaii.”

Still, it can blur the line between what’s real and what’s for show, what’s a joke and what should be taken seriously.

At the summit, Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, who appeared on the same panel as the mayor, asked how Honolulu would address homelessness before the 2011 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.

“Every time I turn around it’s homeless, homeless, homeless,” Carlisle mock-complained. “Hi, I’m ‘homeless’ Pete Carlisle.”

But even the mayor’s genuine reply wasn’t much more nuanced. He described homelessness as “something we simply can’t tolerate” during the APEC conference, which will draw powerful business and political leaders from across the globe. Carlisle said he’ll lead the city in doing everything the city is “legally capable of doing,” but said there’s no solution.

“Homelessness,” he concluded. “It’s just like the common cold or people who are alcoholics.”

That time, though, he was serious.

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