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Cayetano vs. Caldwell

The city’s rail project will ride on Round 2 of the political contest for the mayor’s office

By B.J. Reyes

LAST UPDATED: 12:00 p.m. HST, Aug 12, 2012

Honolulu will have a new mayor in 2013. But whether it will be an anti-rail former governor or a former city managing director committed to seeing the $5.26 billion project through will be determined in November.

Former Gov. Ben Cayetano came away with the most votes in the primary election Saturday, but he fell short of the majority needed to win outright.

Second place went to former Managing Director Kirk Caldwell, who beat Mayor Peter Carlisle, ending his incumbency after just 20 months.

With all precincts reporting on Oahu, Cayetano received 44.8 percent of the vote. Caldwell was next with 29.5 percent and Carlisle third with 25.1 percent.

A fourth candidate, Khistina Caldwell DeJean, received less than 1 percent.

Mayor Carlisle concedes race to Caldwell

Caldwell's strong showing and the likely joining of his and Carlisle's pro-rail backers has Cayetano running as an underdog, a position with which he is more familiar.

"Our voters are solid," Cayetano said when asked about the prospect of taking on the rail interests. "We're going to carry that into the general election."

He estimated he needs about 7 percent more in the general election.

"There are a lot of new voters coming out in the general," Cayetano said. "They tend to be Republican, independent, people who didn't have a real stake in voting in the primary.

"Kirk Caldwell's votes, all those union votes, have pretty much, I think, come out in the primary because of the (Ed) Case-(Mazie) Hirono race. So he has to get the majority of the new votes. We don't think he can do it."

Caldwell came from behind after running third in most polls at the start of the year, when he and Cayetano both announced their candidacies.

Caldwell said he has been speaking to working families at union halls and seeking their support. He now plans to court the support of Carlisle voters.

"I'm hopeful his supporters will consider my position on rail to be similar to the mayor's and they'll help me," Caldwell said, adding that he wants to grow hope in the community with rail a big part of it.

"We cannot build a 21st- century economy on 20th-century infrastructure," he said.

Carlisle conceded the election after the second printout showed him trailing Caldwell by about six points.

He wasn't without his characteristic humor when he told his supporters, "It's clear to me that we're not going to prevail tonight."

Before heading out to congratulate Caldwell, Carlisle said he plans on finishing the remainder of his term strong.

"What's next for me is to keep the city running in the exactly the same direction that it is, get the rail further along — it already can't be stopped — and then make absolutely certain that we get the Full Funding Grant Agreement to come now so that we can have that to enhance the rail project to the finish line," he said.

He also made a brief stop at Cayetano's headquarters to say hello and wish him well. Cayetano had supported Carlisle in the 2010 special election that Carlisle won over Caldwell and anti-rail candidate Panos Prevedouros.

Both Caye­tano and Caldwell would have to replenish their campaign treasuries to keep the campaigns going through the next 12 weeks.

As of the end of July, Caye­tano had the most cash on hand with $315,000. He has raised $950,500 overall.

Caldwell has raised $875,500 overall and had more than $133,300 in cash on hand at the end of July. Carlisle raised more than $739,300 overall and had $118,000 in cash to end July.

Caldwell pulled most of his support from unions, gaining as many as 20 endorsements from public employee unions and private sector unions, including two of the largest, the Hawaii Government Employees Association and the United Public Workers.

Stanley Aquino, Honolulu chapter chairman of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, said Caldwell showed he could be mayor when he was managing director and acting mayor for four months in 2010.

"He has the drive and passion to do the job," Aquino said.

Whoever wins in the end will also have to oversee a $5 billion federal consent decree to upgrade the city's aging waste-water collection and secondary treatment systems, crumbling roads and growing unfunded liabilities for retired worker benefits.

But the campaign to November is almost certain to become, like the primary, a referendum on rail.

Carlisle said he plans to continue moving forward on the project through the end of his administration in January.

"By the time we're in January, it is going to be long, it is going to be beautiful, and it is going to be the vision of tomorrow that Honolulu has needed for more than three decades," he said.

Caldwell now will have the full backing of labor unions as well as the support of U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye, who did not endorse any candidate in the primary, but is unabashedly pro-rail.

"I look forward to working with Kirk," Inouye said as he visited Caldwell headquarters Saturday night.

Cayetano will be ready.

For one thing, he said he was feeling fine after a brief health scare earlier in the week, when he was hospitalized with a bleeding ulcer. He was released Tuesday after spending two nights in the Queen's Medical Center to have the condition diagnosed and treated.

Cayetano came out of retirement in January to run for mayor, citing the rail as his signature issue and the lack of a credible candidate to take on the pro-rail interests.

Whether Cayetano can actually terminate the proj­ect has been debated through the course of the campaign. While Carlisle says the project is too far along, Caldwell says Caye­tano could kill it, and voters would come to regret the loss.

Cayetano prefers a less-expensive bus rapid transit project. But critics have assailed his plan for lacking specifics, particularly what lanes it would use and how it would affect traffic in more congested areas.

But Cayetano's biggest critic has been a pro-rail group that spent more than $1 million to try to discredit his candidacy.

The Pacific Resource Partnership, an advocacy group for contractors and unionized carpenters and construction workers, was behind a campaign called "Read Ben's Record," which raised the issue of more than $500,000 in illegal campaign donations made to Caye­tano during his last run for governor.

The state Campaign Spending Commission cleared Caye­tano of any wrongdoing, and Caye­tano accused PRP of orchestrating a smear campaign against him.

Asked if the negative campaigning against Cayetano would stop, Caldwell said he has no control over what others do, but he will continue to run a campaign on issues.

As he greeted Carlisle at his campaign headquarters, he thanked his rival for debating the issues and running a clean campaign.

Carlisle won the job in a special election two years ago and seemed a shoo-in for re-election only a year ago, with his approval rating at 64 percent in a May 2011 poll for the Star-Advertiser and Hawaii News Now. His approval rating was down to 55 percent by February.

As for his future, Carlisle said he does not necessarily plan to retire at the end of his term, and he will be checking into other employment options, which may even include another run as mayor.

"I'm not ready to roll over yet," he said. "I will not be running for any state office or any federal office, but I will certainly be running for mayor again."


Star-Advertiser reporters Rosemarie Bernardo, Gary Kubota and Sarah Zoellick contributed to this report.

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