After winning a special election in September, Mayor Peter Carlisle had just two years to convince voters that his skills as city prosecutor would translate into being the chief executive officer for the City and County of Honolulu.
So far, it seems Carlisle has made few missteps in the eyes of the public.
New polling data released yesterday shows Carlisle with a job approval rating of 64 percent, while 60 percent of those polled have a favorable opinion of him.
Carlisle had the second-highest favorability rating among eight politicians rated in the Hawaii Poll conducted by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Hawaii News Now.
The numbers show Carlisle has mostly kept his head down and avoided any major negatives, said political scientist Neal Milner.
"I think it’s a combination of two things," Milner said. "One, he carries over that tremendous halo that he had of approval when he was the prosecuting attorney.
"Rail still has solid enough support that despite all the stories about roadblocks and the lawsuit that was filed … overall that’s not penetrated into the public," Milner said.
Carlisle won a special election in September to fill the final two years in the term vacated by Mufi Hannemann, who resigned for a failed run at governor. Carlisle already has pledged this would be his final elective job.
But the poll numbers will not dictate how he does his job.
"If the question is, ‘Am I going to worry about what I’d do because of the numbers?’ the answer is no," Carlisle said in an interview. "I’m going to do what is appropriate, considering the economic condition that we’re in and the necessity of running the city and county in as effectively, as well as in as efficiently, a fashion as possible."
Carlisle’s efforts have won support from all corners of Honolulu. His approval rating is in the 60s among all age, ethnic, income, party and union affiliation demographics. His lowest job approval rating was 49 percent, from those who said they were independent.
His favorability rating of 60 percent was second only to Mazie Hirono (64 percent) among eight politicians rated in the poll. The numbers, again, were high among virtually all demographics, with independent voters scoring him the lowest at 51 percent.
The telephone poll of 443 likely voters on Oahu was conducted May 4-10 by Ward Research Inc. of Honolulu and has a margin of error of 4.7 percentage points.
"I would hope a lot of it has to do with the way we’re handling the budget and making sure that we’re not going further into debt," Carlisle said. "I think one of the things that might also relate to this is the steadfast efforts to get rail going and the success in getting groundbreaking done."
After a somewhat icy beginning — there was a news conference where Carlisle was seen rolling his eyes as acting Mayor Kirk Caldwell spoke about the transition — Carlisle has done little to rock the boat.
He asked his predecessor’s Cabinet to stay on the job for what he called a "probationary" period to see whether they agreed with his philosophies. Most agreed to stay through the transition period, and some have been appointed to full terms.
In his first State of the City speech, he declared massive debt to be a key area of concern, and when he presented his budget to the City Council, he stuck to that theme and proposed limited debt spending with several tax and fee hikes — including an unpopular 6-cent increase in the city’s gasoline tax over three years — while calling on all to share in the sacrifice.
His efforts to keep rail on track culminated with a ceremonial groundbreaking in February.
Carlisle’s favorability rating has dipped only slightly since before the campaign. A Star-Bulletin poll rating potential mayoral candidates in January last year put his favorability at 67 percent.
"It’s only a snapshot, of course, about what’s being done that particular day," Carlisle said. "It seems to me a fairly encouraging snapshot."