Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 8 election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
The following came from Kirk Caldwell, one of two candidates for Honolulu mayor. The other candidate is Charles Djou.
Name: Kirk Caldwell
Office seeking: Honolulu mayor
Occupation: Attorney, mayor
Community organizations/prior offices held: Honolulu mayor, January 2013-present; acting mayor, July-October 2010; Honolulu managing director, January 2009-July 2010; state representative for District 24 (Manoa), 2003- 2008; legislative assistant for U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, 1978-1981
Place of residence: Manoa
Campaign website: www.kirkcaldwell.org
1. Which is closest to your choice for Honolulu rail: Kill the project? Modify the route? Find the additional money to build the project as planned? Explain your choice and what you would do to accomplish that.
Faced with spiraling double-digit percentage increases in construction costs and the direct question from the Federal Transit Administration of how much we can complete with our current $6.8 billion resources, I now believe the only answer, and path forward, is to use these resources to build completely to Middle Street. This is the most feasible interim solution to ensure Honolulu receives the full $1.55 billion in federal funding. At the same time, I am searching for funding to build the full rail route – all 20 miles and 21 stations.
Calls to postpone station construction, strip away parking structures, etc., in order to try to build farther with current funds, are not realistic and would unfairly inconvenience neighborhoods, commuters and businesses a second time when we “go back later.”
Rail is the largest public works project in Hawaii’s history, which poses a significant challenge to my job, a task made more difficult by the lack of direct control the city administration has in the process. My administration and the new HART board is demanding greater transparency, more realistic estimates and a more pragmatic view of our challenges. These are all critical steps toward rail’s success.
2. Is Honolulu growing in the right direction? What would you do to make it more livable?
Honolulu will not be growing in the right direction until: a) we have good-paying jobs and affordable housing to keep our children at home instead of moving to the mainland in order to survive and even prosper; b) we solve the traffic congestion on Oahu that forces commuters to spend hours each day on the road; c) we reduce our reliance on fossil fuel for energy and gasoline and move toward clean renewable energy resources.
As mayor, I implemented some practices that help with the economic challenges our residents face. For example, the city’s purchasing power for goods, services and capital improvements stimulated economic growth as we emerged from recession. I support public and private unions and their efforts to bring living wages for their members. My affordable housing plan is intended to stimulate private development and use city bond funds for low income and homeless housing. Rail integrated with bus services will bring transportation equity to relieve traffic congestion and reduce commute times. Multi-modal transportation options in the urban core reduce reliance on cars. Energy efficient capital projects include waste water systems, renewable energy trash disposal system, photovoltaic buildings, LED street lights and hybrid city buses and vehicles.
3. This year has seen an outsized influence from people who want big changes in how government is run. What would you do to change how the Mayor’s Office is run?
No changes. The Mayor’s Office consists of two professional and two clerical staff. Any change requires budget appropriation by the City Council.
However, as to the city administration, I would consider streamlining governmental operations and consolidating functions to promote cost savings. This includes working with the state and federal agencies to clarify jurisdictional lines of responsibilities and remove duplicative efforts. Any reorganization would require significant negotiations with public unions and community involvement. Three years ago, I “right-sized” city government by deactivating positions. Since then, I’ve tried to hold the line on growth in government despite legal mandates to terminate private contracts and restore services performed by public employees.
4. Hawaii has long been dominated by the Democratic Party establishment. Should this change, and if so, how?
The decision to elect public officials lies with the voters. Voters have the option in every election to vote for a democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Green or any other party member. The fact that more Democrats hold elected office than any other party — or that voter choices may be limited because each of the parties do not always have a candidate running for a particular office — is a shortcoming of the respective party, not anything to do with the leadership of the Hawaii Democratic Party. Besides, the City and County of Honolulu-elected officials are nonpartisan.
5. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
I support state and federal laws that: a) increase transparency by more frequent and detailed reporting of financial interests and conflicts of interests of elected officials and their immediate family members; b) require mandatory recusals from voting or approving action in certain situations in addition to disclosure; c) eliminate or control the super PACs’ (political action committees) ability to spend unlimited funds on independent electioneering, unleashed by the Supreme Court decision in Citizen’s United; d) require disclosure of donors to nonprofit organizations that engage in political action, regardless of whether the nonprofit’s primary mission is nonpolitical; e) require more frequent and detailed reporting by all lobbyists — and the organizations that hire them — of gifts, benefits and campaign contributions to candidates, as well as details of amounts spent in lobbying activities.
6. Would you support eliminating Honolulu’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?
No. The fees are based on the complexity of the public records request and the estimated time and costs necessary to perform the search. Further, public access does not include access to private information on city employees or city residents. Redaction of that information to protect the privacy rights of individuals also drives the costs higher. Unfortunately, most of the searches require manual, paper review, or sorting of electronic information in a different manner.
While I wholeheartedly support transparency and public access to information, that objective is not achieved by reducing fees but rather to maintain more records and data in an electronic format and put records on public portals so the requester can do his/her own search with an easy search engine. The city has made much progress in this area and will continue to move in that direction.
7. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
Many avenues of communication are open to reach me and my administration, such as: phone calls, letters, emails, text messages, hot lines in many departments, complaint lines for customer service, published materials and hundreds of community meetings seeking public input. Every effort is made to respond to complaints/inquiries in a timely and responsive manner. In fact, my administration instituted performance metrics in many departments to measure customer service.
In addition, I hold regular talk-story meetings in many communities throughout the year, attend hundreds of community events where residents approach me about their issues, hold press conferences and issue press releases to inform the public about city actions, and appear regularly on Hawaii News Now for “Ask the Mayor.” Even so, I am always looking for better ways to reach the public. People often complain about elected officials not listening to them because they don’t like or disagree with the response/action — not because there are no open lines of communication.
8. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The most pressing issue facing our residents is the rising costs of building rail and their concern that the tax burden for those costs will be even greater than it presently exists. This is why I have taken the difficult step of asking the HART board to use current resources to build rail completely to Middle Street, as explained above. At the same time, I intend to improve the governance of the HART administration, strengthen the powers of the HART board through changes in the City Charter, impose greater oversight of financial operations, cost containment and risk control, improve transparency and aggressively search for funding from state, federal, private and any other sources to continue the rail route to Ala Moana.
The lack of affordable housing and addressing homeless issues are also top concerns of Oahu residents. I have detailed action plans to address those issues which can be found on the city’s website.