Charles Djou will not participate in a Honolulu mayoral debate with Kirk Caldwell on PBS Hawaii this fall, but the explanation for that depends on which press release you’re reading.

According to Liberty Peralta, the station’s vice president of communications, the Djou campaign this week withdrew from the televised and live-streamed forum set for Oct. 27 at 8 p.m.

In a press release Wednesday, PBS said Djou and Caldwell each agreed several weeks ago to the forum.

This week, Sam Aiona from the Djou campaign told PBS Hawaii Djou was withdrawing from the appearance, stating, ‘We respectfully decline.’ No further reason was given for the withdrawal,” the release stated.

The Djou campaign had a very different take in its own press release.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell shakes Charles Djou's hand before Rotary mayoral forum starts at the JCCH.26 july 2016
Mayor Kirk Caldwell, left, shakes hands with Charles Djou at a mayoral forum during the primary campaign. Former mayor Peter Carlisle also participated. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“What Ms. Peralta and PBS are stating is simply untrue,” the campaign said in its own press release. “Our campaign made no commitments and at no time confirmed our participation in this debate. The matter was placed under careful consideration and, ultimately, we decided to respectfully decline.”

Asked to respond, Peralta reaffirmed the station’s position but added, “Unfortunately, if this is going to be a controversy, we want no part of it.”

Glenna Wong, the Caldwell campaign’s spokeswoman, called Djou’s decision “extremely disappointing” and compared it with Djou’s last-minute cancellation of a Hawaii Public Radio mayoral forum a month before the Aug. 13 primary.

“PBS Insight has been one of the most respected forums for candidates for every major candidate of every major office in Hawaii for decades,” Wong  said in a statement. “Djou’s refusal to participate is truly unprecedented.”

The PBS Hawaii forums are a staple of local politics and one of the few chances for voters to watch a live broadcast featuring the candidates.

She added, “The people of Honolulu deserve to know where the candidates stand on the issues and their plans for Honolulu’s future … Charles’ decision to deny the citizens of Honolulu the opportunity to compare and contrast our positions is not only a disservice to the citizens, it displays an inability and unwillingness to speak plainly to the community.

Djou’s team said there have been plenty of opportunities to compare the candidates.

“Our campaign has accepted 18 debates and forums throughout the course of this election cycle, nine since the primary election — including a televised mayoral debate at PBS just 58 days ago — and is participating in three mayoral forums this week alone,” the campaign stated.

Djou’s staff accused Caldwell of failing to participate in three forums that Djou attended, including the Kakaako Improvement Association mayoral forum, which Caldwell originally committed to “and then later sent a representative. Mr. Caldwell also recently declined a debate on Olelo.”

Hawaii Elections Guide 2016

The campaign for Djou, a former congressman, state legislator and City Council member, said it has received invitations from “dozens of other organizations across the island” requesting his participation in forums and debates, but the candidate can’t attend them all.

“For PBS to demand a second debate and then issue false statements when it does not receive confirmation is both selfish and unfortunate,” said the campaign. “We are hopeful that others in the media community will hold a higher standard throughout this election season.”

The press release did not note that former mayor Peter Carlisle participated in the earlier PBS debate, too. Because no candidate earned more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote-getters (Caldwell and Djou) advanced to the general.

The PBS Hawaii forums are a staple of local politics and one of the few chances for voters to watch a live broadcast featuring the candidates.

As of yet, similar debates on KHON, Hawaii News Now (with media partner the Honolulu Star-Advertiser) and KITV (with Civil Beat) have not been scheduled.

On Thursday, Djou and Caldwell are expected to debate before the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii at the Plaza Club downtown. KHON plans to livestream it.

They are scheduled to meet again Saturday morning in a forum sponsored by AARP Hawaii, billed as a “tele-town hall” that will be live-streamed on Civil Beat’s website and Facebook page.

Get engaged! Join in the discussion of candidates and issues in the 2016 elections in our new Facebook Group, Civil Beat Politics. Connect with others and learn how to get involved in community issues that are central to this year’s elections.

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