The two candidates for mayor of Honolulu made their appeals Wednesday to an influential organization representing the state’s indigenous people.

The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement welcomed incumbent Kirk Caldwell and challenger Charles Djou to the Sheraton Waikiki.

It was a brief, straight-forward forum: five minutes for an opening statement, two minutes to answer the same set of six questions, and a three-minute closer.

Djou went first and emphasized the uniqueness of the Hawaiian culture and how it can be taken for granted.

He repeated his oft-stated request that voters ask themselves if things are better than they were four years ago, when Caldwell assumed office. If not — and Djou strongly believes the city is not better after four years under Caldwell — they should vote for Djou.

Charles Djou at the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement forum Wednesday.
Charles Djou at the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement forum Wednesday. Courtesy Blaine Fergerstrom

Council leader Robin Danner asked what Djou would do about the housing crisis.

Djou said the city had mismanaged or misspent affordable housing funds. He said he’d work with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to provide more affordable housing for Hawaiians.

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Djou said it was important for Waikiki to reflect the uniqueness of the host culture and compared Hawaii to another island locale dependent on tourism, Guam, where he said cultural experiences are not to be found. He said that as a City Council member representing Waikiki, he had worked to ensure that architecture and design in the tourism mecca reflect Hawaiian culture.

Djou also used questions about sewer and road problems in Papakolea (a Honolulu neighborhood that is Hawaiian homestead land) and the travails of Hawaiian businesses along the rail line as a chance to chastise Caldwell’s performance as mayor.

After Djou left the stage, Caldwell began by recalling his youth in Hilo and fishing trips taken to South Point on the Big Island. The audience grew hushed as Caldwell said that his parents’ ashes were later scattered there, an area he described as a “spiritual, powerful place.”

Kirk Caldwell wore Sig Zane.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell at Wednesday’s event. Courtesy Blaine Fergerstrom

Caldwell showed off his Sig Zane aloha shirt with a design that honors the history of the Chinatown area. He used many Hawaiian words and said that his feet were “planted in the loi,” or taro field.

Caldwell ticked off his accomplishments on affordable housing, such as the law on allowing affordable dwelling units on properties. He noted that the rail line in East Kapolei borders homestead land but is not on it. Still, he said he would work with homesteaders to generate economic development tied to the rail line, as well as seek to fully fund DHHL.

The mayor also played up his administration’s support of Thomas Square, a historic site with significance in Hawaiian history. He pointed out that it was Princess Kaiulani who planted trees in the square, and he said a statue of Kamehameha III is planned.

Roads and sewers in Papakolea? Caldwell said he was already working on that. And he told the audience that he had appointed a lot of Hawaiians to serve in his administration, including two he brought with him to the Sheraton.

Caldwell said he was not one to “talk stink and blame,” a reference to Djou. The mayor choked up talking about being on hand for the Hokulea voyaging canoe’s arrival in New York City this year and the sacrifice of famed surfer Eddie Aikau, who died when the Hokulea capsized in 1978 on an attempted voyage to Tahiti.

“Stay steadfast, stay the course,” said the mayor.

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