On Friday morning in Salt Lake, the mayor of Honolulu chose to employ one of his opponent’s most-often-used arguments.
Speaking to the Honolulu Board of Realtors at the Honolulu Country Club, Kirk Caldwell asked the audience to reflect on whether Honolulu was better off than it was four years ago.
“No,” a woman in the audience responded, eliciting some chuckles.
But Caldwell, a former state legislator and city managing director, plowed ahead to argue that tourism, the construction industry and unemployment levels are all significantly improved after nearly four years on his watch.
Challenger Charles Djou, left, listens as Mayor Kirk Caldwell makes a point before the Honolulu Board of Realtors at the Honolulu Country Club.
Chad Blair/Civil Beat
Bond ratings from Fitch and Moody’s are AA-plus, interest rates are low and the military’s presence in the islands remains strong despite the death of one of the armed forces’ top allies in Washington, U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye, in 2012.
For someone to suggest that Honolulu is not better off must mean they are living on another planet, Caldwell implied
That person is Charles Djou, who is seeking to unseat the mayor.
Hawaii Elections Guide 2016
• Stay plugged in to campaigns and candidates this election season with Civil Beat’s Hawaii Elections Guide 2016, your source for information on federal, state and local elections.
The former congressman, state legislator and City Council member does indeed think Honolulu is worse off than before Caldwell became mayor.
Djou has continually said: Why stick with Caldwell? Do you really trust this guy enough to give him another term? It’s time for new leadership.
The indicators to support that contention include a severe lack of affordable housing, a bigger homeless population, a police department and ethics commission under scrutiny and — of course — a rail system that is “a complete and total mess.”
Caldwell’s main argument is that his administration has made significant strides in infrastructure, and while it has fallen short in some areas (that is, rail), he is working hard and has got solutions.
There is now less than a month before Election Day, and absentee ballots will be going out shortly. Walk-in voting begins not long after that.
Djou is trying to unseat the incumbent by asking people if Honolulu is doing better than it was four years ago.
Chad Blair/Civil Beat
The Realtors are an influential audience.
Not only are they in the business of making sales — just like politicians — but they are in an industry intimately familiar with the city’s main source of revenue (property taxes) and interests (transportation and development).
That’s why questions about housing, planning, permitting, residential aid and rail were topmost among the Realtors.
Caldwell and Djou both emphasized their personal ties to the real estate business.
Caldwell had given the Realtors legal advice when he was in private law practice for Ashford & Wriston. As a child, Djou had accompanied his mother, a Realtor, on Sunday mornings when she set up open-house signs.
Caldwell talked vision. He said good roads, reliable sewers and clean parks are central to the success of any city.
The mayor also argued that rail is nearing completion, with three-quarters of the project either built or planned. Yes, the last 4.3 miles from Middle Street to Ala Moana Center currently remains underfunded by $1.8 billion, but now is not the time to “leave the mountain and crawl back down to the base,” he said.
There have been “controversy and challenges,” the mayor acknowledged, but “I have been fighting to get it done.”
The mayor works the crowd at the Honolulu Country Club in Salt Lake.
Chad Blair/Civil Beat
Djou countered that an independent audit of the troubled project is necessary, that the Legislature needs to return to the city the 10 percent “skim” of the general excise tax surcharge on Oahu that is taken by the state, and that landowners and developers along the rail line need to pay impact fees to help support rail costs.
What should not happen, he said, was for the taxpayers to continue to pony up a blank check.
Honolulu is heading into a ditch, said Djou. Ethics rules aren’t followed. Caldwell has “a second job” with Territorial Savings Bank. Voters have got to think about the next generation. It’s about changing coaches.
Djou only blames and complains, said Caldwell, while the mayor talks solutions. It’s an unglamorous job, but he’s fixing things with the exception of rail. Voters should not “cut and run.”
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.
Sign up for our FREE morning newsletter and face each day more informed.