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

In his print, radio, television and online campaign advertisements, Mayor Kirk Caldwell has frequently emphasized what he believes are his many contributions to making Honolulu a better place to live and work.

Challenger Charles Djou has taken a very different approach in his first TV ad, and he comes out swinging.

The 30-second spot, titled “Trust,” began airing Wednesday during the morning news on all major Hawaii TV stations.

Djou does not mention Caldwell my name, but he doesn’t have to.

“This election for mayor is about trust,” Djou says. “We were promised that rail would be built on time and on budget. It is years behind schedule and billions over budget.”

Superimposed newspaper headlines (for example, “Runaway Train” in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser) appear over images of the rail line construction.

A screen shot from Charles Djou's first television advertisement in the mayoral campaign.
A screen shot from Charles Djou’s first television ad in the mayoral campaign. Djou for Mayor

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation is in charge of the rail project, but it is Caldwell who has been mayor for the past three and a half years.

He pushed for the extension of the general excise tax to pay for rail, asked for the resignation of HART board chief Don Horner and proposed stopping the rail line at Middle Street until there is more money to pay for its continuation to Ala Moana Center.

Some viewers are likely to associate rail’s woes with Caldwell’s leadership — at least, that is what Djou hopes for.

Djou continues in his ad: “Meanwhile, homelessness is skyrocketing and ethics undermined.” More newspapers headlines fly by (for example, “How Caldwell has Undermined the Honolulu Ethics Commission” in Civil Beat), this time superimposed over homeless tents.

Homelessness is a statewide problem, but it is especially pronounced in Honolulu. Caldwell has made it a priority, and he argues that progress has been made.

Hawaii Elections Guide 2016

But the problem of homelessness persists. Djou’s ad suggests the mayor has failed on this front.

Meantime, longtime city ethics commission executive director Chuck Totto resigned last month after repeatedly clashing with the Caldwell administration. 

As Civil Beat reported recently, Caldwell “regularly sidesteps” questions about problems within the ethics commission, “saying he’s played no part in the drama even though he appointed three of its seven members.”

Finally, Djou’s ad turns to a sunnier approach, arguing that “Democrats and Republicans, unions and families” are uniting behind him. It closes with Djou, his wife and their three kids unsubtly illustrating that elections are always about the keiki and their future.

It’s a simple, effective attack on Caldwell.

Will voters be persuaded?

And will the mayor respond in kind?

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