Incumbent Kirk Caldwell defeated former U.S. Rep. and City Councilman Charles Djou in the battle for Honolulu mayor Tuesday night.
With nearly all the ballots counted before midnight, Caldwell had 138,142 votes, or 52.3 percent, to Djou’s 125,945, or 47.7 percent.
Djou conceded shortly after 10 p.m., telling supporters at the Pearl Country Club clubhouse in Aiea, “I’m very sorry that tonight I fell short. We gave it our all.”
His apology was met with supportive cries from the crowd.
“Our community, our city our Hawaii deserves an honest, accountable, responsible government,” he said. “I still believe that there will be a time where we’re able to hold our elected officials accountable on promises they make to the people. I still believe there will be a time that we have a competitive two party democracy on our islands here in Hawaii and I believe there will be a time where it is not money but heart that determines the outcome of elections. I’m saddened that that time is not today.”
Caldwell, at his campaign party at the former Ward Center Sports Authority site, came on stage to Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” to after Djou’s concession.
“We took our message all over this island into every single neighborhood,” the mayor said. “And we talked about what we were doing over the last four years, and I think this island heard what we’re doing, and they want to give us another four years to even do more.
“For me, it is about infrastructure. But it’s not about the stuff that’s underground, on the ground and above the ground. It’s about the people who live on this island — how do we help them to thrive.”
Caldwell said completing the rail line will be his biggest priority.
“No. 1 we’re going to work really hard to complete rail all the way to Ala Moana — 20 miles, 21 stations,” he said. “It’s not about the construction. It’s about giving people a choice to get out of cars and travel quickly. It’s about transportation equality, social justice, to help those who work in town to get back and forth from home and get out of gridlock, just not for today but for 100 years from now. That is a legacy all of us are working on to complete.”
In the primary, Caldwell finished ahead of Djou by 1,530 votes in a field of 11 candidates, leading to the general election head-to-head contest.
John Strandberg, a disappointed Djou supporter from Manoa, said of his candidate Tuesday night, “He’s an outsider and that’s what we needed. The people of Honolulu aren’t ready for change. It goes back to the same routine.”
The early part of the campaign was dominated by debate over the escalating costs of what is now projected to be an $8 billion rail project from East Kapolei to Ala Moana with Djou suggesting the city should consider alternatives to building the entire 20-mile line.
But since the Aug. 13 primary, Djou acknowledged that federal transit officials left the city no choice but to go to Ala Moana, leaving how to fund the project’s last leg the only difference between him and Caldwell on the issue. Caldwell favors extending the existing, Oahu-only 0.5 percent surcharge on the general excise tax beyond 2027. Djou said he opposes that idea.
Djou has also questioned Caldwell’s leadership and ethics, criticizing the mayor for not doing more to deal with ongoing conflict in several agencies, most notably turmoil in the Honolulu Police Department, and his role in what appeared to be an over-exertion of authority over the city Ethics Commission.
While all city races are nonpartisan, Hawaii is a predominantly Democratic state and card-carrying Democrat Caldwell is boasting the support of current Gov. David Ige and former Democratic governors Neil Abercrombie, John Waihee and George Ariyoshi, President Barack Obama, as well as five Council Councilmembers. Djou has countered that his supporters include former Democratic Gov. Ben Cayetano, three Democratic Councilmembers including Chairman Ernie Martin and former Democratic Party Chairman Walter Heen.
Caldwell has outspent Djou 3-to-1 since the primary, spending $947,549 to Djou’s $339,628.
The waning weeks of the race saw an upswing in negative campaigning, much of it by third-party independent expenditures or super PACS, which can spend an unlimited amount of money in support or opposition to a candidate so long as there is no coordination with any of them.
The union-backed Workers for a Better Hawaii has spent more than $750,000 through Oct. 31 on radio and TV ads that touted Caldwell’s support of seniors, women and other targeted groups as well as messages ripping Djou for voting with congressional and state legislative Republicans. The group is funded largely by the Hawaii Government Employees Association, the Hawaii State AFL-CIO, AFSCME and the Hawaii Regional Council of Carpenters.
The latter was the main contributor to the Pacific Resource Partnership PAC, which spent $3.6 million on advertising aimed at persuading voters to reject Cayetano’s anti-rail mayoral campaign. Cayetano subsequently filed a defamation lawsuit against the super PAC, which was settled when PRP agreed to issue a public apology and donate $125,000 to two charities.
The newly formed Save Our City LLC, meanwhile, is expected to spend a minimum of $300,000 on its Anybody But Caldwell ads that portray Caldwell as greedy, pointing out that he has been paid $200,000 annually in recent years to be on Territorial Savings Bank’s board of directors.
Save Our City received $170,000 of its funding from Dennis Mitsunaga, president of local architectural, engineering and construction management firm Mitsunaga & Associates. An additional $36,490 came from 11 Mitsunaga officials and employees. Cayetano contributed $5,000.
In the Aug. 13 primary, in what was considered to be a three-way fight between Caldwell, Djou and former Mayor Peter Carlisle, Caldwell beat Djou by 1,530 votes. Caldwell grabbed 74,062 votes, 44.6 percent of the votes cast, while Djou received 72,532 votes, or 43.7 percent.
Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro appeared to be heading for a second, four-year term, handily beating little-known opponent Anosh Yaqoob.
All three incumbent Councilmembers facing general election contests were well on their way to winning re-election.
In Council District 5 (Kaimuki to Kakaako), Ann Kobayashi was besting opponent Kimberly Case; in District 7 (Kalihi to Foster Village), Joey Manahan was beating Chace Shigemasa; and in District 9 (Mililani Town to Ewa Beach), Ron Menor was running far ahead of Emil Svrcina.
Two others won re-election during the Aug. 13 primary.
Councilwoman Kymberly Pine won re-election to her District 1 seat (Waianae to Ewa Beach) after she received more than 50 percent of the votes cast. She beat out Kioni Dudley, Tom Berg and Marc E. Anthony.
Councilman Ikaika Anderson, who represents District 3 (Ahuimanu to Waimanalo), ran unopposed and won re-election by virtue of receiving one vote.
Star-Advertiser staff writers Kathryn Mykleseth and Nanea Kalani contributed to this report.