A scalding new TV spot by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell attacks former Congressman Charles Djou for not supporting a bill funding benefits for 9/11 first responders — a charge that Djou calls “disgusting” and a “clear misrepresentation of my record.”

Here’s the ad:

“After 9/11, first responders toiled in the toxic rubble of Ground Zero to find the remains of those who perished. Thousands of them became seriously ill. Hundreds have died.”

Familiar scenes of massive World Trade Center destruction play under a bed of plaintive piano music. “For years, they sought needed health care coverage from Congress, but were denied.”

“Voting against benefits for 9/11 first responders was Charles Djou. Djou chose party over principal and politics over people. We need a mayor who puts people first.”

Caldwell is correct. Djou did indeed vote against the benefits bill for 9/11 first responders — twice, in July and September of 2010.

He says now that he supported a “resolution to recommit,” so that it would be sent back to committee. Djou says he felt the benefits ought to be funded through spending cuts rather than through closure of a tax loophole, as the bill specified. He joined with the bill’s chief sponsor, then-GOP Rep. Chris Lee of New York, in calling for the resolution.

The bill survived a Republican filibuster and finally passed in late 2010, without Djou’s support, and was signed into law Jan. 2, 2011 — the day before Djou left office.

“I was not opposed to the bill,” Djou told Civil Beat on Wednesday. “Indeed, I supported it.”

What rankles Djou about the ad is both personal and political. First, he enlisted in the Army Reserves right after the 9/11 attack, and served in the 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Infantry Division in Kandahar, Afghanistan, for six months — an area often described as ground zero of the Taliban insurgency.

Djou characterized that tour on Wednesday as “about as tough an assignment as anything you might describe.” He takes umbrage at Caldwell hitting him on invoking the terror attacks that were his personal catalyst for that service.

The Caldwell campaign isn’t backing down. Spokesperson Glenna Wong said the “First Responders” spot is one of several new ads that focus on aspects of Djou’s voting record during his brief stint in Congress — less than eight months. Two others highlight votes on measures aimed at supporting recovery from the recession of the late 2000s and early 2010s: Djou voted against extending unemployment benefits for those who lost jobs and against aid for states to help them rehire teachers who were let go during the recession.

“A candidate runs on his record, and it is legitimate to look at that record and determine why he voted and acted the way he did,” Wong said. “We believe Charles Djou is doing everything he can to avoid answering for his voting record.”

But Djou argues the ads echo attacks on former Gov. Ben Cayetano four years ago that helped Caldwell win the mayor’s office in a runoff with Cayetano. “Those ads compelled (Caldwell) to the mayor’s office, and he’s trying to do the same thing again,” Djou said.

The political action committee behind the 2012 ads — Pacific Resource Partnership — ended up paying $125,000 and making a public apology to settle a libel case brought by Cayetano.

On Wednesday, Djou’s campaign sent out an email that decried “attempts to politicize 9/11 with a misleading ad implying Charles doesn’t care about first responders or our serviceman and women.”

“We want to know: if Kirk is willing to stoop so low just to get elected, what happens when he is in office,” the piece asks.

Wong said while all three ads in this series will run throughout September, the “First Responders” piece won’t air during the three-day 15th anniversary observance of 9/11.

Responding to Djou’s criticisms, she added, “If there is anything ‘disingenuous and disgusting,’ it is Charles Djou’s voting record on this issue (and others), that he refuses take any responsibility to voters for his actions and that he in fact is now lying about it.

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