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Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell defeated challenger Charles Djou 50.8 percent to 46.6 percent Tuesday evening — a difference of about 12,000 votes.
Caldwell, a former city managing director and state legislator, is heading into his second four-year term. The Democrat previously served a short stint as acting mayor in 2010.
Djou was hoping to pull off an upset similar to Republican president-elect Donald Trump. Djou is a former congressman, state legislator and Honolulu City Council member. Both are attorneys.
As the initial returns flashed across a TV screen at the Pearl Country Club after 7:30 p.m., Djou supporters let out a few scattered cheers that turned into a prolonged chant of “Djou!” even though the numbers showed he lagged behind Caldwell.
They continued to be optimistic despite a disappointing second round of returns. But when the candidate entered the room after 9 p.m. shaking hands and hugging nearly everyone present, it was clear that he was ready to concede.
Djou continued to greet supporters one-by-one while TV stations played President-Elect Donald Trump’s speech. After the third round of results came out, Djou stepped up to the podium.
He thanked his volunteers and said the fight is not over for a more “responsible, honest, accountable government.”
“I’m very sorry that tonight I fell short for all of you,” he said, prompting the crowd to cry, “No!”
Djou and his wife left without answering questions from reporters.
Caldwell was confident after the second printout showed a strong lead.
“I feel the love, I feel the happiness, I feel the joy,” said Caldwell, to an enthusiastic audience just before 9 p.m. “And for me I feel gratitude from the very bottom of my heart from each and every one of you in this room and those around this island who worked so hard on this campaign.”
Gov. David Ige joined the mayor later on stage and praised the partnership between the state and city administrations on critical shared priorities such as homelessness.
‘”Our city is in better hands with Kirk as mayor,” said Ige, who also praised the mayor for ignoring the typical “noise” of campaigns and sticking to the issues.
City Council members Ikaika Anderson, Kymberly Pine and Brandon Elefante, who endorsed the mayor, were on hand as well.
Once the third printout sealed his victory, Caldwell returned to the stage.
“This has been a very, very long and hard-fought race,” he said around 10:20 p.m. “We took our message all over this island, into every single neighborhood, big or small.”
Caldwell said the island “heard what we are doing” and want to give the administration another four years in office. He also thanked Djou and his wife Stacey, his own wife, Donna Tanoue, and his late mentor, U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye.
Some of the mayor’s supporters were less gracious. They booed during Djou’s concession speech.
The dominant issue in the mayoral race was the troubled rail line.
The $8.6 billion project is behind schedule and $1.8 billion in the red. The Civil Beat Poll has twice shown rail is the top issue influencing votes for mayor, but also that a majority of voters want the route completed.
Caldwell has acknowledged problems with the project but has said he has demonstrated leadership in calling for membership changes at the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, which manages the rail work.
The mayor has also proposed ways to make up the deficit, including seeking to persuade the Hawaii Legislature to extend Oahu’s general excise tax surcharge and to redirect the state’s 10 percent skim of that surcharge to the city.
On election night, the mayor said, “I ran on rail. I put my political future on the line for rail.”
But Djou said that the rail project was “a mess” and that voters could not trust Caldwell to fix the problem. While Djou, too, said he was committed to building the full 20 miles of the route, he argued that taxpayers should not be further burdened.
Other issues in the mayoral race included homelessness, infrastructure and ethics.
Caldwell argued that his administration had made strides in putting homeless people into shelters and housing, and that it had paved a lot of roads, cleaned up parks and playgrounds and kept sewers maintained.
Djou argued that homeless numbers have actually increased under Caldwell’s watch and that infrastructure was lacking in many parts of Oahu.
The challenger hit the mayor hard on his hefty annual compensation from a local bank and his interference with the Honolulu Ethics Commission, as well as his lack of attention to problems in the Honolulu Police Department.
The mayor countered that he had not interfered with the Ethics Commission and respected the authority of the Police Commission to oversee HPD. Caldwell slammed Djou’s congressional voting record on aid to emergency responders, while Djou said the votes have been taken out of context.
In the final weeks of the campaign, which became a two-man race after neither candidate took a majority of the vote in the Aug. 13 primary, super political action committees have spent more than a million dollars on the race.
The money continued to pour in in the closing days of the campaign.
Save Our City, a super PAC largely funded by engineer Dennis Mitsunaga, opposed Caldwell’s re-election while the labor-backed Workers for a Better Hawaii opposes Djou.
Caldwell and Djou have accused each other of skipping out on commitments to attend candidate forums. Oddly, none of Honolulu’s broadcast televisions stations held a televised debate during the general election campaign.
Another factor in the race has been political party affiliation.
While the mayor’s race is nonpartisan, Caldwell is a well-known Democrat and Djou is a well-known Republican. Both campaigns have advertised the support they have received from prominent Democrats.
They have also split support from labor groups, though Caldwell has overall received far more support from unions and Democrats.
The winner will face a City Council that has been divided in its support for the mayoral candidates.
Anita Hofschneider contributed to this report.