What looked like an easy victory just last month came down to the final printout last night, as former Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle edged out acting Mayor Kirk Caldwell to become the next mayor of Honolulu.
Carlisle emerged the winner in the special mayoral election with 40.8 percent of the vote. Caldwell was second with 36.6 percent. University of Hawaii engineering professor Panos Prevedouros, hoping to play spoiler in his second try at mayor, was third with 19.1 percent.
Carlisle basked in the cheers of supporters as the results of the third printout emerged around 11:08 p.m.
"I am humbled by it. I’m ecstatic about it. Now the really bad news is that the hard stuff starts tomorrow," Carlisle told a crowd of about 100 diehard supporters who stayed at his campaign headquarters until the final tally.
"There’s only one thing you need to know about what’s going to happen, I hope, in the next two years, and that’s change City Hall the way it is now and make it a whole lot better," he added. "It’s going to be lean, it’s going to be clean from corruption and it’s going to be a well-maintained machine."
Caldwell conceded the race before his supporters at 11:15 p.m.
"The fat lady has sung," Caldwell said. "We ran an incredible race. To all of you on this team, thank you so much.
"I want to congratulate Peter Carlisle for being the next elected mayor of this City and County of Honolulu."
Caldwell went to Carlisle’s election-night headquarters near Ward Warehouse and shook the winner’s hand.
Carlisle will serve the two years remaining in the term of Mufi Hannemann, who resigned in June to pursue a run for governor. Hannemann lost in last night’s Democratic primary to veteran legislator Neil Abercrombie.
Yesterday’s vote brought a close to a sprint that officially began July 20, when Hannemann resigned.
Carlisle started the election season as a prohibitive favorite, and even held a 2-to-1 lead over Caldwell in a poll last month.
But Caldwell closed the gap in the final weeks with a strong push helped by a campaign war chest of almost $1 million.
The campaign was mostly on issues and stayed away from attacks, although there were some charges of negative campaigning in the final days as Caldwell took out a series of ads targeting Carlisle’s budget practices and acceptance of pay raises while in office. Carlisle countered with newspaper ads downplaying the charges.
For Craig and Allison Jerome of Makiki, the choice came down to past experience.
"Knowing what their record has been in other positions that they’ve had and how they’ve made decisions in the other jobs they’ve had prior to running for mayor — that was a big factor," said Allison Jerome, 37.
Though they did not share their vote, both agreed the choice came down to Caldwell or Carlisle.
Herta Stevens, who celebrates her 101st birthday today , also cast her ballot at Stevenson, voting in favor of the one who she felt could best address problems related to infrastructure.
"I think the last years we have had plenty of trouble here — sewers and traffic is awful, of course that’s been going on for many, many years," she said. Both she and her daughter, Sabrina Stevens, said they voted for Prevedouros.
The next mayor inherits two major projects in the $5.5 billion rail transit system and a consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and various environmental groups to upgrade the city’s sewers and wastewater treatment plants.
Only Prevedouros had come out as a staunch opponent of the rail project, making it the central issue in his campaign.
The candidates were also challenged on their plans for dealing with homelessness, with various solutions proposed ranging from sending them back to their place of origin to establishing an Office of Housing to deal with affordable housing issues and giving private businesses incentives to help fund projects.
The field was formed well before that, in anticipation of Hannemann’s run for higher office.
Caldwell, Carlisle and Prevedouros announced their intentions last year. The race also included City Councilman Rod Tam, who flirted with a run at lieutenant governor before joining the mayoral fray. He finished a distant fourth.
Carlisle led from the start.
Boosted by his reputation as a tough-on-crime prosecutor, Carlisle had a favorability rating of 67 percent in a January poll. Caldwell, Hannemann’s hand-picked managing director, barely registered, with a favorability rating of 11 percent.
But backed by most of the Democratic establishment, including an informal endorsement from U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye, Caldwell raised his profile through the help of $958,000 in campaign donations.
Stepping into the role of acting mayor upon Hannemann’s resignation, Caldwell didn’t miss the opportunity to get out in public, with numerous news conferences and recognition ceremonies both in and out of Honolulu Hale.
As he was in 2008, when he finished third in the primary with 17 percent of the vote, Prevedouros was the scrappy underdog.
He was hoping for a better showing, after a surge in fundraising in the final weeks with help from traditional Republican Party pockets.
Tam was a long shot from the start, fighting off negative perceptions of him stemming from an investigation into his use of city money for hundreds of meals and other expenses unrelated to his work on the Council.
The winner of the race cannot be sworn in until after a 20-day period that allows for any challenge to the results. The earliest the swearing-in could take place is after 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 8, according to the City Clerk’s office.