Welcome to Ad Watch, a Civil Beat series in which we analyze campaign messages from Hawaii candidates and national spots aimed at Hawaii voters.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell may not have a significant opponent yet in his campaign for re-election this fall. But he has an ad.

Caldwell recently began airing radio ads that seek to position him as a responsible leader, tending to the long overlooked infrastructure needs of the city and county. The central message: It may not be exciting, but it has to get done.

The 1-minute spot opens with fictional audio of the mayor as a fourth-grader, taking part in a 1964 spelling bee. (Caldwell was born in 1952, and would have been 11 or 12 at the time, but we’ll assume the ad is making no comment on his academic progress as a youngster.) He is asked to spell “infrastructure.”

Rep Ty Cullent, Marvin Buenconsejo from Sen Hirono's office, Rep Henry Aquino, Mayor Caldwell, City Councilman Brandon Elefante, HART Exec Dir Dan Grabauskas and more VIPs during Waipahu West Loch Waipahu station ground breaking ceremonies.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell, center, joins other public officials at the groundbreaking for the Waipahu West Loch Waipahu rail station in February. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Young Kirk nails it, but isn’t content to just spell it out. He offers a thorough definition, too — maybe a little too thorough. “Without good infrastructure, people can’t live productive daily lives,” he declares as part of a very windy answer. An exasperated teacher finally asks him to sit down.

Modern-day Caldwell takes over from there, 52 years later. “Well, it didn’t quite start that way. But I am passionate about infrastructure,” he said. “The sad truth is we haven’t been keeping up with our infrastructure for decades. But we’ve been working to turn that around.”

Hawaii Elections Guide 2016

Caldwell points to progress on city roads, sewers, parks and playgrounds, and most notably, completion of “more than one-third of the rail transit guideway.” “Still, we have more to do,” the mayor continues.

It’s an interesting way of getting out in front of potential voter frustrations as rail construction comes closer to more heavily congested central Honolulu, where it will cause more headaches.

The ad also draws attention to basic upgrades, the totality of which escape the personal experience of individual voters. The secret to such pothole politics is not only to fix things, but to make sure you get noticed doing it, and Caldwell’s ad is a step in that direction.

All this doesn’t inoculate him against criticism over the rail project’s massive cost overruns, which will undoubtedly come up on the campaign trail. But it does lay down a marker that a key part of his defense will be that the project is moving forward, despite its troubles, and he’s played a central role in facilitating that progress.

Produced by the Anthology Marketing Group, the spots are running on a range of local stations. The Caldwell campaign did not share information on the number of ads or overall cost for the buy.

Listen to the entire ad below.


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