For the first time in Honolulu history, the mayor and City Council on Wednesday morning shared the stage in a joint swearing-in ceremony.
It was a harbinger of what they promise is coming.
Taking his oath of office alongside five newly elected Honolulu City Council members, Kirk Caldwell committed to working directly with the city’s legislators to make Oahu a better place.
The emphasis on collaboration comes in stark contrast to the previous mayor’s leadership style, which more than one council member indicated Wednesday was hands-off and disposed to disagreement with the council. Peter Carlisle served as Honolulu’s mayor between 2010 and 2012.
Also in attendance were Council Chair Ernie Martin and Council Members Stanley Chang, Carol Fukunaga and Breene Harimoto, all of whom are continuing their terms in office. (Fukunaga, a former state senator, took office after winning a special election to fill Tulsi Gabbard‘s vacated seat.) About 400 people total — many of them members of the public — attended the event.
Caldwell told reporters in a press conference after his swearing-in that his first priority is working with the City Council hands-on. Caldwell and the council proceeded directly into meetings Wednesday afternoon following the day’s inauguration events.
“We need to remind ourselves that, while there will be this push and pull, if we continue to look for common ground and come together to solve the problems of this county, we give that voice to the people,” Caldwell said in his inauguration speech.
And that emphasis on collaboration would, he said, extend to state and federal government, too.
“I look forward to not only working with the council on a platform like this, but also with all levels of government,” Caldwell said at the ceremony. “We cannot get the job done without cooperating with other levels of government.”
Caldwell pointed to his relationship with Gov. Neil Abercrombie and promised to establish a strong rapport with the state’s executive.
“There’s one street that separates us — Punchbowl,” Caldwell said. “I’m going to walk across the street and sit down with the governor … After generations of mayors and governors fighting, I want a city where mayor and governor work together to get the people’s business done.”
Caldwell said he had recently met with Abercrombie to discuss various issues, including plans for the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium — an issue over which they had disagreed last year.
Abercrombie wanted to replace the crumbling building with a volleyball arena or concert hall. Caldwell in his campaign said the state’s proposal was too costly and instead supported a task force plan to demolish the pool, move the arches back and create an additional beach, all while maintaining a memorial.
“I’m ready to work with the governor on his proposal,” he said at the press conference. “I just want to get the Natatorium improved, repaired and show respect to those who gave their ultimate sacrifice in World War I.”
Council Chair Martin, who spoke briefly before Caldwell, emphasized that the council and mayor share the goal of producing effective solutions for their constituents.
“Neither the mayor nor the council expects the other to concede when policy differences arise,” Martin said. “What we all prefer is compromise in the wake of any conflict and placing mutual understanding ahead of ultimatums … There are infinitely more reasons to stand shoulder to shoulder than toe to toe.”
Councilman Chang told Civil Beat that he’s optimistic that Caldwell’s focus on collaboration will expedite the council’s lawmaking process.
“There’s not a lot that we can do without the mayor, and there’s not a lot that the mayor can do without us,” Chang said. “We’re looking forward to working with the mayor and his office in facilitating swifter resolutions to issues … It doesn’t have to be a big public fight with threats of lawsuits and so on.”
Caldwell in the press conference said that one of his initial priorities will be to restore bus routes — an effort he said is contingent on the city’s budget. Caldwell said he had yet to see a draft of the budget. Other concerns include repaving roads and ensuring that stipulations outlined in the city’s sewer consent decree are fulfilled on time.
Caldwell also said he plans to improve the maintenance of city parks, which he dubbed the island’s “crown jewels.” As of Wednesday, Caldwell had yet to name a director for the city Department of Parks and Recreation.
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