When rebuttal time came at a Honolulu mayoral candidate forum Tuesday, Peter Carlisle acted like he didn’t have anything more to say about his opponents, Kirk Caldwell and Charles Djou.

“I thought I was rebutting,” Carlisle told moderator Jessica Lani Rich, eliciting laughs from the Rotary Club of Honolulu audience. 

Carlisle, a former Honolulu mayor, was indicating that he was already making his points in the forum, which up to that point was primarily about the rail project.

“Rail sucks, rail sucks, rail sucks,” he said, half-jokingly, before adding, “It doesn’t.”

Mayor candidate Peter Carlisle smiles to the audience as Mayor Caldwell greets Charles Dju before the start of the Rotary Club mayoral forum held at the JCCH. 26 july 2016
Mayoral candidate Peter Carlisle smiles to the audience as Mayor Kirk Caldwell greets Charles Djou before the start of the candidate forum Tuesday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Carlisle went on to talk about the weather, how the mugginess from Tropical Storm Darby had upset his wife, Judy, who then got upset with her husband. Even their cats were upset. More laughter.

What Carlisle did not do — and what he really hasn’t done much throughout the campaign — was criticize his opponents directly and by name.

Contrast that with what Caldwell, the current mayor, and Djou, the former congressman and City Council member, had to say about the competition.

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Djou said he wants to take the city in a direction that is fundamentally different from that of his opponents. Carlisle wants to build rail all the way to Ala Moana Center, while Caldwell wants to stop at Middle Street until the funding can be secured to build the full 20-mile route from East Kapolei.

“Both have used the phrase ‘stay the course,’ but the problem is we are way, way, way off course,” Djou said of his opponents’ stands on rail.

In fact, Djou said there was no comparable example of a rail project so off course as Honolulu’s, which is over budget and delayed. Rail will “consume everything if it is not fixed,” he said, and the only solution is to have a new mayor — him.

Caldwell said Djou never offers solutions to the rail problem, except to say that he is open “to any and all alternatives.”

“And that is not an answer,” Caldwell said. “An executive has to come up with a solution.”

Mayoral candidate Charles Djou holds a copy of a Star Advertiser article as Mayor Kirk Caldwell looks on during Rotary Club mayoral forum held at the Japanese Culture Center of Hawaii. 26 july 2016
Charles Djou, right, holds up a copy of a Star-Advertiser article about road repair as Mayor Kirk Caldwell, left, watches during the Rotary Club mayoral forum at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

With less than three weeks to go before the Aug. 13 primary, and with absentee ballots already arriving in mailboxes, the contours of the race for mayor are becoming familiar.

Caldwell is committed to rail, always has been, but tough decisions have to be made.

Meanwhile, he frequently points out that there are other pressing concerns: roads, sewers, housing, buses, parks and homelessness. Djou, Caldwell contended, is all about accusations.

Djou says that, from Honolulu Hale to Washington, D.C., Americans no longer trust their government. Here at home, Caldwell promised that rail would be “on time and on budget,” but it is way behind schedule and billions over budget.

Enough already with the blank check to pay for rail, Djou says. If voters don’t elect new leadership at City Hall, we’re all in big trouble.

Carlisle says he ran the city very well before Caldwell took the job from him: hosting international events, showing resolve during a tsunami scare, paying down unfunded liabilities and cleaning up miles of coastline in Waianae that had been sullied by homeless people. He’s the fiscally responsible candidate that will be prudent with taxpayer money.

Rotary Club members hold hand during singing of Hawaii Aloha at the conclusion of the Rotary Club Mayoral Forum held at JCCH. 26 july 2016
Rotary Club members and guests hold hands during singing of “Hawaii Aloha” at the conclusion of the mayoral forum. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Here are a few additional points gleaned from Tuesday’s forum, which was held at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii in Moiliili:

  • Caldwell defended Honolulu’s steel-on-steel rail technology, saying that other forms such as magnetic levitation would not work on Oahu. To switch systems now would invite legal challenges and alter the route, and it could all end up being more expensive than the chosen system. Building part of the rail “at grade” (that is, level with the ground) through downtown is unworkable.
  • Djou pointed to a Honolulu Star-Advertiser series that reported Oahu is behind the times when it comes to road repair. While Caldwell defended the city’s approach as standard across the country and the world, Djou said the city had failed at this basic function of government. Carlisle, meantime, referenced a 2012 study that laid out a good approach to the problem — a “pavement management system.” It involves prioritizing for repair the roads that are in good or so-so shape instead of taking up the “lousy” roads first.
  • As for homelessness, one of the major issues in the mayoral race this year, Caldwell said the city has made progress and that the problem “is not out of control.” Djou said common sense shows that things are worse than they were four years ago when Caldwell was elected. And Carlisle emphasized a law-and-order approach for those breaking the law and individualized approaches for the mentally ill and those hard on their luck.

The three major candidates for mayor (there are 11 in all) share one thing in common: They love their wives. Stacey Djou, Judy Carlisle and Donna Tanoue received shout-outs from their respective spouses.

The candidates also acknowledged their own weaknesses: Carlisle to is too focused on getting things done and quickly moving on to the next task, Djou needs to be more “strategically patient” rather than engaging immediately when confronting issues, while Caldwell makes mistakes when he doesn’t listen to his wife.

Civil Beat and media partner KITV are hosting a mayoral candidate debate Thursday from 6:30 to 7 p.m..

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