Former Acting Mayor Kirk Caldwell picked up six more union endorsements Thursday morning, bringing his total to 10 over the last two months.

Union leaders touted his style, his attention to detail, his willingness to listen, and yes, his support for rail and other construction projects.

“He has been a friend of labor and working-class people since his days in the Legislature,” said Iron Workers Local 625 Business Manager Joseph O’Donnell.

The six new unions — the Iron Workers; Plumbers and Fitters; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; Elevator Constructors; Insulators and Allied Workers; and Boilermakers — together have just over 7,000 members.

That’s smaller than Caldwell’s last round of union endorsements, when two of the state’s biggest groups — the Hawaii Government Employees Association and United Public Workers — backed his candidacy. Together with State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers and the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association, he’s up to 10 even as Peter Carlisle and Ben Cayetano have yet to pick up union support. The bosses of the new unions said they haven’t spoken to Carlisle or Cayetano recently.

All 10 endorsed Caldwell in 2010.

“For me, it symbolizes my collaborative style,” Caldwell said at a morning press conference in front of a King Street parking garage that will one day be a transit station and emergency management center. “You have unions here coming together. They’re all part of the building trades. They’re diverse. They do specific, unique things in different areas in rebuilding our city. And they’ve come together to say I’m the guy to work with, to make sure that our city moves forward, that we rebuild our city for a better future.”

Union Estimated Membership
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1186 3,200
Plumbers & Fitters Local 675 2,100
Iron Workers Local 625 1,500
Boilermakers Local 627 160
Elevator Constructors Local 126 140
Insulators and Allied Workers Local 132 120

Source: Union leaders at Thursday press conference

Caldwell touted his support for rail and also said he’d create additional jobs by increasing the city’s Capital Improvement Program budget. He compared Carlisle’s conservative spending to the policies that led to the Great Depression.

“You don’t cut back now. You’re not like President Hoover before the Depression saying, ‘Let’s pull back,'” Caldwell said. “You want to prime the pump, increase construction and put people back to work, so that in the good days, you’re not competing for the work and driving up prices.”

Despite the criticism of Carlisle and Cayetano and the support of the unions, Caldwell found himself third in The Civil Beat Poll conducted about four weeks ago. The poll showed 53 percent support for Cayetano — enough to win the election outright in the August primary — versus 21 percent for Carlisle and 17 percent for Caldwell.

IBEW Business Manager and Financial Secretary Damien Kim — also a member of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation board — and Plumbers and Fitters Business Manager and Financial Secretary Reginald Castanares told Civil Beat in separate interviews they weren’t basing their endorsement decisions on polling.

“We want to support somebody that of course is not going to lose. We have big faith in Kirk Caldwell in becoming the next mayor,” Kim said. “I personally, I haven’t done any polling, but just looking at the candidates and who’s running, who would be the best fit for our local IBEW itself, and who can do the most for us is what we want to back in a candidate.”

Castanares said it came down to integrity.

“I read Civil Beat so I saw your poll. It’s about integrity. We believe in Kirk Caldwell and we support candidates that will do for our City and County and will do good for our state in whatever position, and that even means if we’re the underdog. And that’s why we support Kirk.

“We supported Mr. Cayetano in the past, many, many years ago. But that didn’t work well with us as he promised us a lot and never delivered. I think it would be foolish for us to follow that same trend again.”

So what will the unions do to turn things around for Caldwell?

Kim said his union actively ensures its members register to vote, and has ways of tracking who doesn’t vote.

“So we can target specific people and homes, and even on voting day we get them out through the phone.”

But with a big gap to make up, the votes from even 7,000 union members and their families might not be enough.

“We’re doing everything, everything in this election possible,” Kim said. “The plumbers have a great phone-banking system that we utilize, but our members get active. Sign-waving, going door-to-door, whatever’s needed, the grassroots type of campaign.”

Kim said IBEW is limited by campaign finance law in how much it can donate directly to Caldwell, and that his union doesn’t spend money on independent expenditure advertising.

“Typically we’ve never done that. We don’t do that type of stuff,” he said. “I leave it up to their campaign committee.”

Castanares was also non-committal about how his union members would support their preferred mayoral candidate.

“We have supported candidates in many different ways,” he said. “We think that we’ll be supporting Kirk in whatever he sees necessary that we can feasibly do.”

Caldwell, meanwhile, is ramping up fundraising efforts of his own because it’ll be an expensive race. He held a $50-per-person event Wednesday in Mililani, and said he’s planning more upscale parties. He’s also started an islandwide “listening tour” to get out into the community.

After other reporters left, Caldwell pulled the union bosses back together for a short informal video his campaign will produce and distribute online. Enjoying himself with friends and sunshine, he joked he didn’t want the day to end.

But it was time to go back to work, and some were worried about their cars a few feet away on King Street. Caldwell started to move in earnest when of his endorsers worried about the possibility of a parking ticket, something even the self-described problem-tackling candidate wouldn’t be able to fix.

“You’re not mayor yet.”

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