UPDATED 1/17/12 3:15 p.m.

Less than a minute into the announcement of his candidacy for the city’s top job Thursday, Kirk Caldwell held up a slip of paper listing two concerns brought to him by a city security guard.

“One is more soap for the bathrooms, and he wants signs for not spitting on the floor,” Caldwell said. “And the point here is I’m carrying this list with me because it’s about these kinds of hands-on details that makes life better for all of you. And that is the kind of mayor I’m going to be.”

Sometimes raising his voice to be heard over the buses pulling in and out behind him at the Kalihi transit center, the city’s former No. 2 executive distinguished himself from Mayor Peter Carlisle by saying he’ll be a hands-on, detail-oriented problem-solver.

Some of Caldwell’s gripes seemed small, but that was by design. Asked to identify one major issue on which he differs with Carlisle, the 59-year-old Caldwell demurred.

“I think it’s going to be much about style and that’s why I talked a lot about my inclusiveness, listening to all people, all voices,” he said.

Throughout the press conference, Caldwell painted Carlisle as a do-nothing mayor who’s been missing during times of crisis.

He cited two specific examples.

First, there the January 2011 spill from Waimanalo Gulch Landfill that carried medical waste out to sea and onto Leeward Oahu beaches. At the time, Carlisle was traveling to Los Angeles and Washington DC.

“Mayor Carlisle was out of state, he was nowhere to be seen or heard on this problem,” Caldwell said. “I can promise you this: I’m going to be your hands-on mayor. I’m going to approach every problem seriously. I’m going to listen to everyone. I’m going to be transparent about the issues and I’m going to be transparent about when we don’t have all the answers.”

Now, exactly a year later, two television stations (KHON and Hawaii News Now) are shining a light on the overflowing trash cans at Diamond Head, and Carlisle’s again on his way to Los Angeles and Washington.

“Now, for me, I can’t think of anything more important, more basic for a mayor to do than to pick up the trash, and Mayor Carlisle cannot do this,” Caldwell said.

“I believe, I believe in the bottom of my heart, that you need someone who approaches this job seriously. The whole job. Not just the ceremonies. Not just the groundbreakings. Not just the world travel and not just to stand on one controversial issue. It is about the whole, whole job.”

‘A High Mountain To Climb’

Even though he only lost to Carlisle by 4 percentage points in 2010, Caldwell admitted that he has “a high mountain to climb” if he’s going to win back the office he held briefly as acting mayor after Mufi Hannemann stepped down to run for governor.

Caldwell had a fundraising edge over Carlisle last time around, spending $1.27 million to Carlisle’s $510,000. But that race left Caldwell’s campaign nearly $180,000 in debt, and he faced questions about that Thursday. He said he held a successful fundraiser recently and was confident he could raise enough money — between $800,000 and $1.5 million, he estimated — to win the race.

But Caldwell’s sunny attitude — visible in his answers to other questions Thursday — might not work for a challenger trying to unseat an incumbent who’s won five straight island-wide city elections, four as prosecutor and one as mayor.

Asked about the city’s handling of APEC, Caldwell said there were many partners in that “wonderful” event and that “everyone deserves a round of applause.” Asked later about the size of government, Caldwell defended the city’s operations.

“City government does work, for the most part. Watch these buses come in and out of here today. You get up in the morning, you turn on the water, you take a shower, the water works. You flush your toilet, the sewage goes away. Your gray bin, ours in Manoa, goes today. It happens,” he said. “I mean, for the most part, city workers are doing a great job and we live well.”

How, then, can he criticize Carlisle for failing to run the city effectively?

Because, he said, Carlisle is merely executing the initiatives of the previous administration — the administration of Mufi Hannemann, in which Caldwell was managing director.

“I think all the initiatives, all the initiatives that you see the present administration carrying forward are ones initiated prior to his getting there,” Caldwell said. “The only new initiative that I see is the trucking of sludge from the Sand Island Treatment Plant because the administration couldn’t manage the second digester issue very well. But if you can name another initiative that this administration has pushed forward, tell me, I don’t see it.”

UPDATED This week the city did start to enforce a new ordinance initiated after Carlisle took office. However the previous administration had put forward a bill addressing the same issue.1 But at the press conference, Caldwell was not asked about and did not comment on the city’s efforts to drive dozens of homeless people off sidewalks in east Honolulu.

Carlisle, for his part, said through his campaign manager that he wasn’t surprised by Caldwell’s announcement.

“We’ve long anticipated a challenge from Caldwell,” Cha Thompson told Civil Beat. “(Carlisle)’s just anticipating a spirited campaign from him.

“It’s always been the mayor’s position that it’s not status quo working at City Hall,” Thompson said. “The budget is a major concern. He’s been on that all year long. He’s still working on ways to cut costs. He’s still working with his people there at City Hall.”

‘Rail Is a Huge Issue’

One key issue on which Caldwell drew a substantive policy distinction with Carlisle was rail.

Though Caldwell reiterated that he supports mass transit and has faith that Sen. Dan Inouye will come through with federal funding, he said Carlisle was “highly irresponsible” when he said he’d “plow forward” with rail even if federal support falls through.

“I would definitely not say I’m going to do it anyway, and go tax the people,” Caldwell said, positioning himself as the reasonable voice on rail. “I would sit down and look at it and see what else we could do.”

Of course, Carlisle might not be the only other candidate in the race. Former Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano has indicated he might run if only to stop the rail project.

“I think it just adds another dimension to the race,” Caldwell said of Cayetano’s potential candidacy. “I think, hey, we’re going to have some very spirited debates … and I look forward to that.”

Earlier, Caldwell had made one reference to a “single-issue candidate,” and said that while rail is a “huge issue” in the 2012 election, “I don’t believe it’s the only issue.”

Cayetano said Thursday that he would hold off on any announcements as he mourned a death in his family.

Asked specifically about Caldwell’s candidacy, Cayetano said, “I have no comment about Kirk except to say that he’s a friend of mine and he’s a nice man.

“But the city doesn’t need nice men right now.”

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