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

A new 60-second radio commercial from the campaign of Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell “fact-checks” challenger Charles Djou and finds him wanting.

Specifically, the spot refers to Djou’s statements on rail and homelessness.

Charles Djou loves to make accusations, but let’s fact-check what he’s saying,” a woman’s voice intones.

Djou has said that rail will “bankrupt” the city, but the ad’s narrator counters, “City finances are better than when (Caldwell) took office.”

Funding for rail is “completely independent of city finances and is being achieved without longterm debt for future taxpayers,” the ad states, adding that, the city has a “strong” AA+ bond rating.

Honolulu Mayor debate as candidate Peter Carlisle looks on as Mayor Caldwell speaks with right, Charles Djou. Blaisdell. 14 july 2016
Mayor Kirk Caldwell, left, makes a point during a recent candidates forum with challengers Peter Carlisle, center, and Charles Djou. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

It’s true that Djou has warned of financial ruin from rail. And it’s true that rail is paid for by federal funds and a temporary increase of the general excise tax, which is “independent” of city finances in the sense that none of the money goes directly to the city’s treasury.

It’s true as well that, according to a March 2016 report from the city’s Department of Budget and Fiscal Services, Fitch and Moody’s are cited as giving Honolulu AA+ and AA1 bond ratings, respectively.

As to whether the city’s finances are better off now than when Caldwell came in, his predecessor Peter Carlisle, who also is running for mayor, might have a different opinion. And it seems premature to state that city taxpayers are not being saddled with long-term debt; it may be true for now, but no one knows how rail might be financed down the road or whether debt financing might be necessary.

Hawaii Elections Guide 2016

Regardless, the narrator cues a loud game-show buzzer to indicate Djou has it wrong on rail and ruin.

As for homelessness, Djou is accused of saying the number of homeless people is “skyrocketing” — something his campaign has indeed stated.

The narrator says that “the numbers” indicate that the opposite is true: homelessness grew at 1 percent last year, the city has housed nearly 1,000 people and more than 700 of them are veterans.

As Civil Beat reported last last month, the latest point-in-time count for Oahu showed a “modest” increase in homeless numbers over the past year, “a jump of less than 1 percent.”

And the city has made progress on housing people — the figure on veterans is accurate, although the ad does not disclose that the Caldwell administration worked with federal agencies to help house vets.

Djou then gets another buzzer and this from the narrator: “Charles Djou can make up his opinions, but he shouldn’t make up his facts.”

Who Went Negative First?

Caldwell’s campaign spokeswoman, Glenna Wong, said the new spot is titled “Fact Check” because “Djou came out with his first ad attacking us with bogus info. So, we thought he deserved a fact check — because basically, nobody else is.”

On Tuesday, the Djou campaign fired back in an email accusing Caldwell of launching “the first direct negative attack ad of this campaign season with a misleading radio commercial. The reason the mayor feels he needs to desperately attack is pretty simple — he’s scared that we can win this election in the primary on August 13.”

The email from the Djou team goes on to say that public opinion polls show that he is leading in the race — that’s true, too — and that the campaign needs donations to pay for a radio ad to counter “the negative campaigning engaged by the Caldwell machine.”

Wong did not respond to a request for comment on the Djou email, while the Djou campaign said it has just begun running its latest ad (something Civil Beat will report on when it has a copy).

The Caldwell “Fact Check” ad is effective because it raises doubts about whether voters can trust Djou to speak factually about critical issues. Lack of trust in Honolulu Hale, after all, is Djou’s main campaign theme.

It may well be a “negative” ad, too, but only in the sense that it may have a negative impact on the Djou campaign. But the same can be said about Djou’s first ad (titled “Trust”) implicitly attacking Caldwell on rail, homelessness and ethics.

Listen to Caldwell’s latest ad below:

Join in the discussion of these ads and other issues in the 2016 elections in our new Facebook Group, Civil Beat Politics.

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