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Carlisle bites off a lot to chew

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There’s nothing more inspirational than a clean slate, but it can be daunting, too. Peter Carlisle, fresh from his triumphant run for the mayor’s office, is facing that slate now as he plans his transition from a successful career in law enforcement to the top floor of Honolulu Hale.

Throughout the campaign, Carlisle gave no indication of being anything but energized by the prospects before him when he takes over Oct. 8, and certainly that’s what Honolulu wants on Day One. But residents also need to see some kind of blueprint for the new mayor’s partial term in far greater detail than what Carlisle has revealed so far.

Being mayor is heady stuff, no doubt, but duties tend to dwell in the mundane — ranging from property taxes to sewage fees, landfills to public parks, potholes to street lights.

Some of the broad strokes are encouraging. In his interview with the Star-Advertiser editorial board and in his questionnaire for the newspaper’s election guide, he is unambiguously in favor of getting the rail system built. He rightly observes that this moment, with building costs at such low levels, is the ideal time to get shovels turning and job-creation in gear.

Carlisle has pledged to keep strict oversight of contract awards in place as the project unfolds, and to keep the process in clear view of the public. Many voters, including those who support rail, believe more transparency at each step would have boosted public confidence in the project.

He also vows to support the establishment of a transit authority, assuming the voters endorse its creation in November’s balloting. He makes the incontrovertible case that a freestanding authority, at least somewhat insulated from political influence, is the best means of curbing corruption.

But in other issues of city governance, Carlisle confronts a steep learning curve.

He promises to rein in the city budget, which has expanded in recent years. Who would argue with that? Now taxpayers and the users of city services should get specifics. He described a strategy of building fewer new city projects and spending capital improvement funds instead on maintenance. During the campaign, though, he offered few tactics for accomplishing that goal. On which projects would he pull the plug, exactly?

And how would he achieve greater efficiency with payrolls for the city’s public employee unions? Carlisle said he has played hardball enforcing rules against the few bad apples at the prosecutor’s office, a shot across the bow that, he said, deterred other workforce miscreants. That’s admirable resolve, but the approach to managing the city’s full complement of unionized civil servants is vastly more complex.

Carlisle has argued that his years as the city’s only other "elected executive" prepared him for the top job, but most of the work in City Hall falls outside his old law-and-order bailiwick. For example, he made the unfortunate suggestion at one debate that the homeless could be chased out by turning on park sprinklers at night. He acknowledged that the homeless population comprises multifaceted needs but has not begun to shape a control mechanism.

"I don’t talk about the social services as much as I should," he said before the election. "I look at it to some extent from a law-enforcement perspective."

That’s at least an accurate self-assessment.

Carlisle is known for his quick wit and has a genial temperament, which may help in navigating the political shoals of governance. But the most crucial part in the mayor’s job description is still assembling a forward-looking plan and the right team to carry it out.

In a year when campaign promises have come fast and furious, at least one stands out: "I’m an elected executive who’s willing to make decisions, unpopular ones, even if it means it’s not any good for my political career," he told the editorial board.

The voters surely will watch carefully over the next two years and hold him to that pledge.

 

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