Kirk Caldwell

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Kirk Caldwell is Honolulu’s mayor.

He received 29 percent of the vote in the August 2012 primary, beating Peter Carlisle who received just under 25 percent. Caldwell defeated Ben Cayetano in a run-off election on November 6, 2012.

Caldwell served as city managing director from 2009 to 2010.

Following Mufi Hannemann‘s resignation from his position as Honolulu mayor, Caldwell became acting mayor on July 20, 2010. Caldwell hoped to make this position permanent: He ran for Honolulu mayor but lost the Sept. 18, 2010 special election contest to former Honolulu City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle.

After taking some time off after his loss in the 2010 mayoral election, Caldwell returned to work as an attorney for the Honolulu firm Ashford & Wriston.

Caldwell formerly represented the 24th District in the Hawaii State House of Representatives in 2002. He eventually worked his way up to become the House majority leader from 2006 to 2008.

On the Issues

In July 2012, Civil Beat asked Caldwell to answer 10 questions on issues ranging from homelessness to city infrastructure. To read Caldwell’s responses, click here.


Caldwell was born Sep. 4, 1952, in Waipahu. He was raised on the Big Island of Hawaii where he attended Hilo Union School and Hawaii Preparatory Academy. In 1971, he earned a B.A in Economics at Tufts University. Later, he graduated from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and William S. Richardson School of Law.

When Caldwell finished his education, he began working in the private Hawaii law firm of Ashford and Wriston, LLP. In 1978, he left the private sector to work with Sen. Daniel K. Inouye in Washington D.C. After six years, he served as a clerk for Williams Richardson, former chief justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court.

Caldwell was elected as the representative of the 24th District in the Hawaii State House of Representatives and served as vice president of the Transportation Committee in 2003. In 2005, he became the chairman of the Labor and Employment Committee and later served as the House majority leader for two years from 2006 to 2008.

In 2009, Hannemann appointed Caldwell to be the managing director for the City and County of Honolulu.

Caldwell lives with his wife Donna Tanoue and daughter Maya in Manoa.


As Honolulu’s managing director, Caldwell was a strong advocate for the city’s planned $5.3 billion rail line. His support for rail became a key position in his run for mayor.

While holding the position as House majority leader, Caldwell focused on decreasing taxes and providing healthcare for children. In his current position as managing director, he has played a role in helping address transit and homelessness in Honolulu. Caldwell also “expedited $150 million in road repaving, creating hundreds of new jobs,” according to his campaign website.

Caldwell is a member of many organizations, including neighborhood boards in Kaimuki and Manoa.

Previous elections

Carlisle won the Sept. 18, 2010 special election for Honolulu mayor with 38.8 percent of voters’ support. He beat Caldwell, who trailed with 34.6 percent of votes.

Engineer Panos Prevedouros drew 18.9 percent of votes. City Councilman Rod Tam earned 1.4 percent of votes.

Carlisle spent $510,079 on his campaign, meaning he spent an average of $6.33 per vote for his 80,553 votes. By comparison, runner-up Caldwell spent more than twice as much as Calisle, $1.27 million, but only garnered 34.6 percent of votes. He spent an average of $17.68 for each of his 71,815 votes.

Carlisle’s campaign emphasized the importance of getting Honolulu’s “financial house in order.” Caldwell’s mayoral platform included creating alternative methods of transportation to address traffic congestion, advancing public transportation, creating affordable communities for young and old citizens and moving homeless people from common areas to shelters and other programs.

Response to Civil Beat’s 10 Questions During His 2010 Run for Mayor

1) Does the City have a fair and equitable tax structure? Is there anything you would change about it? If so, why? If not, why is the current structure so good?

The Real Property Tax (RPT) is the only tax for which the State Constitution gives the counties exclusive authority, and revenues from the RPT is the largest component of the City’s revenue base.  Our RPT is relatively low compared to other parts of the country, but that’s because property tax in other places is often the revenue used to fund public education and municipal courts.  Despite that, our residents continue to be concerned about the impact of any tax on their cost of living.

Our RPT system has provided for a homeowner’s exemption and a credit for our lower income homeowners that benefit the elderly.  I think we need to consider what’s reasonable and fair given Oahu’s needs and services, and this should be reviewed periodically.   I am sensitive to property tax levels in the context of the cost of living in Hawaii, especially for the average homeowner.  Consequently, last year, we worked with the City Council to convert the single Residential property class into the Homeowner and Non-Homeowner classes.  This allowed us to provide a lower tax rate to the residential homeowner, while providing a higher rate for investors and speculators in residential properties.

Having said this, I want to emphasize that any increase in real property taxes should only be proposed as a last resort.  While we continue to seek more creative ways to raise revenues and to tap into new federal funding sources, we continue to cut agency spending.  We currently have spending restrictions in place, including a restriction on new hiring and the filling of vacant positions, a freeze on equipment purchases, and a restriction on travel and new leases.

2) What would you do to address the crisis in affordable housing in Honolulu?

This is a timely question.  While I do not believe the City should be in the housing construction and management business, I firmly believe that the City has a role in helping facilitate the development of affordable housing in Honolulu.  Having a single, designated agency in the City to facilitate this effort is imperative.  Therefore, I already am working with the City Council to amend Resolution No. 10-38 to create a City housing agency.  While the current version of the Resolution calls for a new Office of Housing to be placed within the Mayor’s Office, I believe it more appropriate for it to be placed with an existing line department, such as the Department of Community Services, which already is working on federally funded housing programs, rental assistance programs, and the issue of homelessness.

While creating such an agency would take time, and I want to move on this effort now.  With the additional resources the Council has provided me in my current budget, I am looking to hire a coordinator to: Create a working group to make recommendations on how best to spend the approximately $20 million allocated by City Charter for affordable housing.

Explore tax and other incentives to promote private development of affordable housing, including ohana units in private residences, zoning variances and property tax credits.

Consult with the Department of Planning and Permitting to determine what they need to help expedite the permitting process for housing development proposals.

Determine what is needed to create a workforce housing fund to provide incentives to private developers to build workforce housing and low income rental housing.

Continue the City’s on-going effort to sell City-owned low and moderate income properties to private entities under a community land trust model to maintain the property as affordable housing.

3) How would your administration address homelessness differently from the administration of Mayor Mufi Hannemann?

I will appoint a “Housing First” Coordinator to work with providers to implement the Housing First model and move the homeless directly into permanent housing within the next three years.

As a transition to implementation of the Housing First model, I want to create Safe Zones with temporary shelters on City owned land.  These safe zones will have sanitation and laundry facilities, trash pickup, storage facilities, and provide a safe area for those temporarily homeless.

4) Do you support the use of furloughs, which impact residents and visitors, over pay cuts or layoffs for city workers? If so, why? If not, why not?

Higher unemployment or under employment is harmful to the economy, and furloughs and firings are counterproductive to our efforts to improve Honolulu’s economy.  Furloughs are not mandates, but negotiated with our public sector unions who recognize the difficult financial situation the City is in.  However, short of actually reducing the size of the workforce, and except cases where public heath and safety are jeopardized, furloughs are the best option.  Here’s why:

  • Layoffs contribute to our unemployment rolls and affect the city’s ability to provide needed services on a permanent basis.  When people are unemployed, they are not spending money in our local economy, further weakening consumer confidence.
  • Pay cuts and furloughs affect salaries and salaries must be negotiated through the collective bargaining process.
  • With furloughs, workers take more of a pay reduction than with straight pay cuts and this helps the city address the budget shortfall.

I am not happy that furloughs impact services to residents and visitors, but with proper planning and communication, the inconvenience is lessened.

5) Would you complete the rail project as planned in the final EIS or would you try to change it or terminate it? In either case, why?

I would complete the rail project as planned in the final EIS.  Honolulu has committed to rail.  We should move forward so that we can provide jobs during the construction phase, provide greater transportation options to ease traffic, create new business through transit oriented development (TOD), and modernize our city for the benefit of our residents.

TOD includes establishing businesses, shops, restaurants, and residences close to transit stops.  It eliminates the need for people to own cars for daily use, and all the expenses associated with cars.

To complement rail, I want to explore more spoke-and-wheel systems so that people will find it desirable to take public transportation even if they don’t live close to a major bus route.  This involves smaller, neighborhood bus systems that feed into the main system.  This is especially plausible for areas of central Oahu where traffic congestion is critical. When gas prices soar, we’ve seen people change their driving habits.  Public transportation needs to be made easier, cheaper, safer, dependable, and the smarter choice.

6) Could the city do anything differently to support small business? If so, what? If not, why not?

We have already taken measures to support our business community survive these difficult times.  The current City budget was balanced without a tax rate increase to the commercial and hotel classes.  However, I fully understand that tourism continues to be a foundation of Oahu’s economy, but the visitor industry includes many small businesses and links to other industries.

I would like to partner our high tech industry with our core economic driver, tourism.  For years, Hawaii has attempted to boost economic development in high tech industries, concentrating in energy production, biotech and biosciences.  We have had limited success in these areas.  But, often when some of these high tech businesses reach the stage of production and manufacturing, these companies move out of Hawaii.

A partnership between high tech and tourism will ensure that new ventures remain in Hawaii for the long term.  I want to find ways to use our hospitality industry to pilot projects in high tech development.  This can range from computer software for hotel registration to food management, to providing innovative tourist attractions, to communication links that allow tourists to work and play at the same time.  I will work with the Hawaii Tourism Authority, stakeholders in Waikiki, and private sector entrepreneurs to explore partnerships between our tourism and high tech industries.

7) What should the city do with its trash?

We must continue to attack this from many angles.  The city has agreed to identify by November 2010 other landfill sites on Oahu to either replace or supplement the Waimanalo Gulch landfill on the Waianae Coast.    We are in the process of expanding H-Power, with completion estimated at the end of 2011.  I am committed to expanding our residential recycling program, which includes curbside recycling, community recycling bins, condo recycling assistance, and on-going public education and awareness programs.

8) Would you support banning personal fireworks in Honolulu?

I support a ban on fireworks, but I also am sensitive to the cultural and religious beliefs of many of those in our community.  Therefore, the City Police and Fire Chiefs currently are working with the City Council on legislation to take all of those concerns into consideration.

9) What would you want to be remembered for as mayor of Honolulu?

I would like to be remembered as a mayor who prepared us well for the future.

I have always had a keen interest in urban planning.  Our General Plan is due for a major update in the next year.  I believe that proper planning improves traffic flow and affects how people live, work and play.  We live on an island, and growth must not go unchecked. There is a buzzword that planners use – smart growth.  We can’t ignore that Honolulu has become a major city in the United States, and that growth throughout Oahu is important to our future.  But, it must be the right kind of growth, it must reflect our local sense of place, and be respectful to our many ethnic cultures.

Smart growth in my administration will include more walking and bicycle paths, and will go hand-in-hand with our transportation planning. It will include transit-oriented development.  It will explore re-investment in our older, urban neighborhoods and a commitment to open space.  Smart growth will also include the integration of mixed-use development, such as housing, retail, parking, schools and parks.

Oahu combines the natural beauty in our rural and preservation areas, the small legacy towns and communities, the posh resorts in prime beach areas, and the edginess and energy of a major urban city.  I will approach urban growth to revitalize and preserve what I and others love about living on Oahu.

10) If you could change one decision of the previous mayor, what would it be? Why?

I would have appointed Kirk Caldwell as Managing Director five years ago.

Seriously, many of the critical decisions we had to make in the last few years were the consequences of decades of inaction on the part of other administrations.  If it not for this lack of attention to the City’s road and sewer infrastructure, we would not have had to divert so much time, effort, and money to fixing the potholes and sewer lines in a short a time as we have had.  And, we could have used those resources to address other issues such as rental housing for the homeless.


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Kirk Caldwell
Lawmakers Demand Answers To Honolulu Rail’s Ballooning Costs Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

Lawmakers Demand Answers To Honolulu Rail’s Ballooning Costs

Caldwell proposes increases in Oahu’s fuel tax, vehicle weight tax and parking fees to show the city has “skin in the game.”

City Council Members ‘Leery’ Of HPD Chief’s Retirement Deal Cory Lum/CIvil Beat

City Council Members ‘Leery’ Of HPD Chief’s Retirement Deal

Police Commission Chairman Max Sword refuses to answer questions from council members who want to know if they get final say on any payout.

Is HPD Chief’s Departure Just The Beginning Of An ‘Ugly’ Mess? Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Is HPD Chief’s Departure Just The Beginning Of An ‘Ugly’ Mess?

Chief Louis Kealoha’s retirement package is being worked out and approved in secret before it’s known whether he committed serious wrongdoing.

Caldwell Outspent Djou Nearly 4-To-1 In Honolulu Mayor’s Race Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Caldwell Outspent Djou Nearly 4-To-1 In Honolulu Mayor’s Race

The mayor raised $3.6 million, and a super PAC kicked in nearly $1 million more to support his re-election bid.

Reader Rep: Was It Fair To Turn Kirk Caldwell Into A Cardboard Cutout? Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Reader Rep: Was It Fair To Turn Kirk Caldwell Into A Cardboard Cutout?

Credit Civil Beat for coming up with a creative approach to candidate videos. But the resulting coverage could have been more balanced.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell Re-Elected Over Charles Djou Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Mayor Kirk Caldwell Re-Elected Over Charles Djou

The Honolulu mayor is heading into another term after Djou conceded Tuesday evening.

3 Civil Questions For Kirk Caldwell And Charles Djou — Episode 4

3 Civil Questions For Kirk Caldwell And Charles Djou — Episode 4

In this episode, the mayor and his challenger are asked about a do-over for rail, Oahu’s traffic and urban sprawl.

VIDEO: 3 Civil Questions For Caldwell and Djou — Episode 2

VIDEO: 3 Civil Questions For Caldwell and Djou — Episode 2

In this episode: what Honolulu is doing right, a model city, a new landfill.

VIDEO: 3 Civil Questions For Kirk Caldwell And Charles Djou Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

VIDEO: 3 Civil Questions For Kirk Caldwell And Charles Djou

We wanted to know what the mayoral candidates had to say about more than just rail. Watch a short video of our questions to the two candidates.

Caldwell Camp Rejects Djou Debate Scheme As ‘Campaign Stunt’ Chad Blair/Civil Beat

Caldwell Camp Rejects Djou Debate Scheme As ‘Campaign Stunt’

The Honolulu mayoral challenger wanted the two candidates to pay for 30 minutes of airtime on KITV on Saturday.

Caldwell Campaign: We May Have Been Duped With Newspaper Ad

Caldwell Campaign: We May Have Been Duped With Newspaper Ad

A campaign ad in the Star-Advertiser listed “Dennis Francis” — the name of the paper’s publisher — as one of the mayor’s supporters.

TV Spots — And One Big Print Ad — Spice Up Mayor’s Race Djou for Mayor

TV Spots — And One Big Print Ad — Spice Up Mayor’s Race

Incumbent Kirk Caldwell lets others do the talking, while challenger Charles Djou appears with his wife — and in uniform.