Peter Carlisle is running for mayor of Honolulu, seeking to take back the office he lost to Kirk Caldwell four years ago.

At a press conference Friday morning held downtown at the law offices of O’Connor Playdon & Guben, where Carlisle is an attorney, the former mayor said rail is his top priority.

He complained that what is now estimated to be a $6.9 billion project has been subjected to political meddling from Honolulu Hale. Let the professionals at the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation do their job, he argued.

A former city prosecutor, Carlisle also emphasized a law-and-order approach to dealing with the homelessness crisis. He pointed to steps he took as mayor to remove Occupy Honolulu protesters from public parks and sidewalks; and to close down a homeless encampment in Waianae.

Peter Carlisle gives press conference announces his run for mayor. 13 may 2016.
Peter Carlisle announced Friday that he wants to be mayor of Honolulu again. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Carlisle accused Caldwell of lacking leadership and heeding too many political weather vanes. Carlisle said he wants to “right the ship” of city government.

He also expressed some irritation when people confuse him with the incumbent.

“I am Peter Carlisle, the 13th mayor and the third elected prosecuting attorney of the City and County of Honolulu,” he said. “I am not a partisan politician. I do not spend other people’s money extravagantly or foolishly. And I firmly believe and am completely committed to having ethics as part of City Hall.”

“I am not a partisan politician. I do not spend other people’s money extravagantly or foolishly.”—Peter Carlisle

Carlisle said he would not make the promises that politicians typically make — filling more potholes, for example — saying that he would stress what he has accomplished in office.

For Carlisle, it was leading the early stages of the rail project while he was mayor. During his terms as prosecutor, he said he improved the judicial process through a practice known as “information charging” that streamlineed that process and is more favorable to victims and witnesses.

Carlisle said when he left the prosecutor’s office in 2010, it was a “well-oiled machine.” His successor — and predecessor and former opponent — Keith Kaneshiro, he said, had let the office go to waste.

Carlisle V. Caldwell

Carlisle was elected in September 2010 in a special election to complete the term of Mufi Hannemann, who resigned to run for governor that summer. (Hannemann was defeated by fellow Democrat Neil Abercrombie in the primary, which was held in conjunction with the special election.)

Hannemann’s managing director at the time was Caldwell, and he became acting mayor but lost to Carlisle in the special election.

Two years later, Carlisle finished third in the mayoral election — one for a full term — behind Caldwell and Ben Cayetano, a former governor.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell stands with supporters on the front lawn of Honolulu Hale after turning in documents to run for Mayor. 4 may 2016.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell recently announced his candidacy for re-election. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The top two vote-getters moved on to the general election, where Caldwell prevailed in an election that was a referendum on the rail project. Cayetano opposed rail and said it was unnecessary and too expensive.

Caldwell supports rail and agrees that it is the top issue in the election. But he has recently started criticizing HART’s fiscal management and accountability.

Carlisle supports rail, too, calling it Honolulu’s “future.” If elected this year, Carlisle, 63, said he promised to serve just one four-year term. He noted that he made that promise to his wife, Judy, whose birthday fell on the same day as his announcement, Friday the 13th.

The Good Fight

At his announcement, Carlisle made several jabs directed toward Caldwell. He told reporters that no one would need to use paid leave time to attend the press conference (ethics complaints were lodged against Caldwell last week to that effect).

Carlisle said the rail project would not stop at Middle Street, as has been proposed by some. He called the idea “stupid.”

He declined to comment on the status of Police Chief Louis Kealoha, who is under investigation for possible criminal violations, or how that might be impacting the Honolulu Police Department. Carlisle said he didn’t know enough about it.

Homelessness, he said, is a “complex problem” that has been around for years and may need greater collaboration between the private and public sectors to resolve.

“This is not something new,” he said.

Carlisle said he will stick with voluntary campaign spending limits — he did not say how much — and would rely partially on public funding.

Before taking questions from reporters, Carlisle read a letter given to him by the late Sen. Dan Inouye after Carlisle lost his 2012 re-election bid. The U.S. senator thanked him for “fighting the good fight” and for “shouldering the local burden” on the rail issue.

Honolulu City Council Chair Ernie Martin speaks during city council inauguration ceremonies held at Honolulu Hale. 2 jan 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Honolulu City Council Chair Ernie Martin has not officially declared whether he will run for mayor this year. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Asked for a response to Carlisle’s news, Lex Smith, Caldwell’s campaign chair, said, “The mayor I think welcomes everybody into the race. The mayor certainly believes the public deserves a choice, and this gives the public a choice. The mayor has a record for the last four years, he has been in office and working hard. I am not exactly sure what Mr. Carlisle has been doing for the past few years, but we will find out during the campaign.”

Carlisle has been practicing law, and his clients include Chuck Totto, the embattled executive director of the city’s Ethics Commission. Carlisle said he would review whether he would remain Totto’s legal counsel during the election.

Smith was also asked about Carlisle’s criticisms of Caldwell.

“The mayor is definitely focused on infrastructure, and he feels that that is what city government is really about. And as far as any personal criticisms, the public will make a decision about that. The mayor feels that he has tackled all issues head on that have come before the city, and that really is what he is going to be running on.”

Other Candidates On The Way?

Honolulu City Council Chair Ernie Martin has expressed interest in running for mayor, but it is unclear whether it will happen this year. Martin would have to resign his position to seek higher office.

Martin, too, supports rail but is highly critical of the cost overruns, delays and lack of transparency.

Duke Aiona, the former Republican lieutenant governor, has also looked into the race. Aiona does not support rail, but acknowledges that the project cannot be halted.

Carlisle’s announcement came one day after the Hawaii Construction Alliance endorsed Caldwell, Caldwell held a campaign fundraiser (at Waialae County Club, with donations suggested from $500 to $4,000) and Martin did as well (Waiolu Ocean Lounge, $500 to $4,000). 

Elections for county mayors in Hawaii are nonpartisan. The filing deadline to run for all offices is June 7.

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