The final battle for Honolulu Hale will play out in a general election clash on Nov. 8 between Mayor Kirk Caldwell and former U.S. Rep. and City Councilman Charles Djou.
Caldwell narrowly finished first in Saturday’s primary election, with 44.6 percent of the 166,002 votes cast. Djou threatened to pull the mayor into a dead heat but by the end of the night trailed with 43.7 percent of the votes and a close second-place finish.
Former Mayor Peter Carlisle came in a distant third, garnering 9.4 percent of the votes. None of the eight other candidates for the post carried 1 percent. No candidate received 50 percent of the votes cast plus one vote to be declared the winner. So the two top finishers — Caldwell and Djou — move on to a November runoff.
As the evening progressed and the runoff became more likely, the top candidates began courting Carlisle and his supporters.
Djou went before cameras for KHON-2 saying he expects to have a chat with Carlisle soon. “Peter, I look forward to working with you in the next coming days,” Djou said. “I look forward to having a good conversation with him.”
Caldwell, meanwhile, told supporters Saturday night that he was grateful for Carlisle’s longtime support for the rail project. “Peter ran a hard campaign and there’s no one more passionate about rail,” the mayor said. “And when you take Peter’s votes and you take my votes, the gratifying thing for me is that it shows that the majority of the people voting right now support rail being completed to Ala Moana, all 20 miles, all 21 stations, with the trains that are here, with the technology that we have.”
Where Carlisle’s votes go in the general election could determine the future of City Hall.
After losing his re-election bid four years ago, Carlisle endorsed Caldwell, citing Caldwell’s support for rail.
In the 2012 primary election, former Gov. Ben Cayetano finished first with 90,956 votes, or 44.7 percent of the votes, putting him into a runoff with runner-up Caldwell, who finished with 59,963 votes, or 29.5 percent. Carlisle, the incumbent, had 51,101, or 25.1 percent, and was eliminated.
In the 2012 general election, Caldwell won with 157,714 votes (53.9 percent) over Cayetano’s 134,740 votes (46.1 percent).
On Saturday, Carlisle conceded after the initial results were announced just after 7 p.m. He likened his poor showing to “being flattened out by a steamroller.”
Carlisle said his main objective now would be to ensure the rail project is completed. “If we can make sure that (rail) can be done from Kapolei to Ala Moana, then I am perfectly happy with the result,” he said.
But the former mayor made it clear he would not support Djou or Caldwell in a general election runoff. He accused Djou of “wanting to destroy (rail)” and criticized Caldwell for having ethical issues.
The early returns Saturday were somewhat surprising because the most recent polling, including the Honolulu Star-Advertiser Hawaii Poll conducted in late June and early July, showed Djou 9 percentage points ahead of Caldwell.
The problems encountered by the city’s increasingly expensive rail project loomed over the election and dominated nearly every one of the seven forums or debates the three main candidates attended.
Djou and Carlisle accused Caldwell of mismanaging the project, and pointed out the cost had risen to an estimated $8 billion from the $5.26 billion that was projected when Caldwell took office in January 2013. Caldwell argued that economics and court delays were to blame for the cost increases, and charged that while his opponents could criticize, they were unable to produce a better plan to complete the line to Ala Moana as promised in the city’s agreement with federal transit officials.
As the primary season drew to a close, it was clear that all three were in support of pushing to complete the rail line at least to Ala Moana, were hoping for further federal support to do so and were against using property taxes to pay for any part of rail construction.
But Djou, who had voted against the rail project while on the Council, opposed extending the 0.5 percent general excise tax beyond 2021 to fund construction, while Caldwell and Carlisle didn’t rule it out. Djou also voiced more willingness to change the technology for a rapid- transit means of moving from Middle Street to Ala Moana, while Caldwell and Carlisle said they believed switching tracks now would be disastrous.
The sniping about rail continued through Saturday night.
Djou said Caldwell was refusing “to take responsibility for the gross mismanagement of the billions of dollars of overspending, the years of delays on this project. We are going to get it done without breaking the backs of working families and our seniors here.”
Caldwell described Djou as “the anti-rail candidate (although) he doesn’t want to say it.” While Djou has said he wants to keep himself open to all options, “the one he seems to like the most is putting buses up there, that’s not rail. That’s some kind of elevated bus system the federal government would never support or fund.”
During the campaign Caldwell touted the progress he made on improving roads, sewers and other infrastructure needs of the city, as well a parks improvement program and tackling homelessness. Djou and Carlisle questioned his effectiveness on those issues.
They also accused the incumbent of meddling with the city Ethics Commission and its longtime executive director, Chuck Totto, who resigned in June after publicly stating the Caldwell administration and Corporation Counsel Donna Leong attempted to exert control over management of his office.
Similar concerns were raised by the challengers about Caldwell’s handling of the troubles involving the Honolulu Police Department and Police Chief Louis Kealoha, who is being investigated by federal prosecutors. While Carlisle and Djou said they would have pressed Kealoha to remove himself from office at least temporarily while under investigation, Caldwell said the fate of the chief should be in the hands of the Police Commission.
Djou, a lifelong Republican in a Democratic-dominant state, fought to present himself as a centrist. That claim was bolstered by endorsements from former Gov. Ben Cayetano, longtime Democratic Party leader Walter Heen, Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi and five trade labor unions that had previously backed Caldwell. All said they were disenchanted by Caldwell’s leadership and felt the need for a change.
The mayor, meanwhile, won endorsements from more than 20 labor unions, current Gov. David Ige and former Gov. George Ariyoshi.
Caldwell’s favorability and job performance ratings had declined steadily, according to the Hawaii Poll results. Nonetheless, more than half of those polled still had a favorable opinion of him and his job performance.
Campaigning practically nonstop since taking office in January 2013, Caldwell had a big jump on fundraising efforts over both Carlisle, who threw his hat into the ring in May, and Djou, who announced his candidacy in June, the day before the deadline to file for office.
The latest campaign finance reports show Caldwell for Mayor raised $2.85 million and spent $2.1 million; Djou raised $484,894 and spent $277,474; and Carlisle raised $3,824 and spent $3,382.
Djou, however, far outpaced Caldwell in contributions in more recent reports.
Star-Advertiser reporter Nelson Daranciang contributed to this report.