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Caldwell beats Cayetano in mayor's race

By B.J. Reyes

LAST UPDATED: 10:33 p.m. HST, Nov 6, 2012

Former city Managing Director Kirk Caldwell won the hotly contested race for Honolulu mayor, defeating former Gov. Ben Cayetano in a contest widely seen as a referendum on rail.

After the third printout, Caldwell continued to lead 54 percent to 46 percent. He was ahead by more than 22,000 votes.

"I want to wish Kirk Caldwell the best of luck — I think he's going to need that," Cayetano told supporters in conceding the race to Caldwell. 

This is Cayetano's first loss in his years in politics and he blamed it on negative campaigning.

“I want to let everyone know that we’re going to work together to move this city and this county forward,” Caldwell in his victory speech. “You have my total commitment — total commitment — to work hard every single day, 24/7 on all the issues.”

Caldwell now has the chance to “do rail better,” as he has stated throughout the campaign. Whoever won would have a significant voice in determining the future of Honolulu, primarily with respect to whether the planned $5.26 billion rail transit project proceeds.

Caldwell is a staunch rail supporter who says he can guide it better. Cayetano has vowed to kill the project if elected.

Caldwell succeeds Mayor Peter Carlisle, the popular former prosecutor who served just two years in office. Carlisle, who defeated Caldwell in a special election in 2010 to fill the second half of the term vacated by Mufi Hannemann, lost his bid for reelection in the August primary after finishing third behind Cayetano and Caldwell.

Cayetano was the top vote-getter in August with 44.7 percent, falling short of the 50 percent majority needed to win the office outright and forcing him into the November run-off. Caldwell finished second with 29.5 percent and Carlisle third with 25.1 percent.

Candidates gathered with supporters at locations in town to watch the returns. 

Caldwell’s campaign rally headquarters at Pier 10 by Aloha Tower filled up early in the night with more than 300 people, many of them sporting navy blue firefighter and State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers T-shirts. Caldwell was backed by both SHOPO and the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association unions.

“I’m supporting Kirk Caldwell because of the fact that I want the rail,” said Kaneohe resident Eric Cassera, who stopped by Caldwell’s rally before his night shift at Kapiolani Hospital. “Traffic is really very horrendous here in Honolulu. … I don’t want Cayetano (to win).”

At Cayetano's campaign party at Blaisdell Center, Nancie Voyce was wearing a white "Ben for Mayor" T-shirt and having some pupus with her husband, Don.

"No. 1 is to stop rail," Don Voyce, 66, said of the Aina Haina couple's support for Cayetano. "We don't think this city can afford it at all."

Asked if there was a No. 2 reason they supported Cayetano, Don Voyce said, "He was a good governor and I think he can fix the sewers, he can fix potholes and straighten out the highways. I think his bus plan will work if we give it a chance." 

Caldwell, a tireless campaigner who began the year a distant third in the race, has been backed by most of the state’s largest labor unions and pro-rail groups that have poured more than $3 million into the race to take down Cayetano.

Cayetano, the former two-term Democratic governor, has been backed by a coalition of rail opponents, many who have supported Republican candidates and causes in the past.

The race has been marked by big money pouring into both sides with the fate of the rail project at stake. caldwell has raised $1.6 million, a shade above Cayetano’s $1.4 million.

Among the more visible outside spenders in the race has been the Pacific Resource Partnership, a pro-rail group that has spent $2.8 million for ads attacking against Cayetano. 

Cayetano has called the ads character assassination and part of a smear campaign to discredit his candidacy. The ads have centered on illegal donations to Cayetano’s last gubernatorial campaign, his pardons as governor and have also included a mailer trying to link him to the state Republican Party. 

PRP is a trade name for the Carpenters Market Recovery Fund, which is an alliance between the Hawaii Carpenters Union and contractors that use unionized workers. Cayetano has sued PRP for defamation, alleging that some of its advertisements are false and defamatory.


Star-Advertiser reporters William Cole and Sarah Zoellick contributed to this report.

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