Mayor Kirk Caldwell won a second four-year term Tuesday, shaking off a scrappy challenge by former U.S. Rep. and City Councilman Charles Djou by an easier-than-expected margin.
Caldwell beat Djou by 12,197 votes. Caldwell had 138,142 votes, or 52.3 percent of the vote to Djou’s 125,945 votes, or 47.6 percent.
That’s a much bigger margin than in the primary, when Caldwell finished ahead of Djou by 1,530 votes in a field of 11 candidates, leading to the general election’s head-to-head contest. Both candidates said Monday that they expected the outcome to be close.
Shortly after Djou’s concession speech, Caldwell got on stage at his campaign party at the former Sports Authority site on Ward Avenue to the song “Celebration,” by Kool and the Gang.
“We took our message all over this island, into every single neighborhood,” Caldwell 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 do even more.”
He reiterated his focus on improving the city’s infrastructure. “It’s about the people who live on this island — how do we help them to thrive?”
Completing the city’s troubled rail line the full 20 miles from East Kapolei to Ala Moana will be his biggest priority, Caldwell said. “It’s not about the construction,” he said. “It’s about giving people a choice to get out of cars and travel quickly. It’s about transportation equity, 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.”
At the Pearl Country Club in Aiea, Djou conceded defeat and apologized to his supporters: “I fell short.”
“I’m very sorry. We gave it our all. We gave it our very, very best here,” Djou said.
But the man who’s been a congressman, City Council member and state House member in less than 20 years did not sound like someone who’d fought his last campaign fight.
“Our community, our city, our Hawaii deserves an honest, accountable and responsible government,” Djou 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 that 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 our money but heart that determines the outcome of elections. I’m saddened that that time is not today.”
Through the summer, the campaign was dominated by the rail issue. Djou pointed out that the project cost is now expected to climb to $8 billion from the $5.26 billion estimate when Caldwell became mayor four years ago. He suggested that the city consider alternatives to building the entire line.
Commitment to rail
But since the Aug. 13 primary, Djou acknowledged that federal transit officials left the city no choice but to go the full way to Ala Moana, leaving how to fund the project’s last leg the only difference separating him from Caldwell on the issue. Caldwell favors extending the existing, Oahu-only 0.5 percent surcharge on the general excise tax beyond 2027. Djou opposed that idea, but did not present a clear alternative plan outside of replacing Caldwell and calling for a comprehensive audit.
Djou also questioned Caldwell’s leadership and ethics. He criticized the mayor for not doing more to deal with ongoing conflict in several agencies, most notably turmoil in the Honolulu Police Department, where Chief Louis Kealoha is the subject of a federal investigation. Djou also blamed Caldwell for overexerting his authority over the city Ethics Commission.
Deputy Managing Director Georgette Deemer maintained Caldwell’s commitment to the rail project appealed to voters.
“The rail’s had many issues — and they came at a really bad time, right before the election — and the mayor has always said that the rail project is more important than his re-election,” she said. “He could’ve run from it, he could’ve distanced himself from it, but he didn’t.” Instead, he appointed qualified individuals to the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation board who were more aggressive in their questioning of the project, she said.
But at Djou’s gathering, former Democratic Party of Hawaii Chairman and retired Judge Walter Heen said Djou became the first Republican he’s ever supported because he believed the challenger could do a better job handling rail costs.
“My decision to support Djou was based entirely on discovering a candidate who is willing to take good hard looks at the rail tragedy,” he said. “He will be better able to control the cost explosion.”
Caldwell has lost control over the project, Heen said.
While all city races are nonpartisan, Hawaii is a predominantly Democratic state, and card-carrying Democrat Caldwell boasted the support of current Democratic Gov. David Ige; former Democratic Govs. Neil Abercrombie, John Waihee and George Ariyoshi; and President Barack Obama; as well as five City Council members. Djou countered that his supporters include Heen, former Democratic Gov. Ben Cayetano and three Democratic Council members, including Chairman Ernie Martin.
Caldwell has outspent Djou $947,549 to $339,628, a nearly 3-to-1 margin.
Since the 2012 mayoral election, Caldwell has reported raising $3.47 million and spending $3.41 million. Djou, who did not announce his intentions to run until the day before the June 8 filing deadline, has reported raising $920,336.90 and spending $868,461.
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 as long as there is no coordination with any of them.
The union-backed Workers for a Better Hawaii spent more than $750,000 through Oct. 31 on radio and TV ads that touted Caldwell’s support of seniors, women and other 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 carpenters group 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 2012 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, said it was spending a minimum of $300,000 on an ad campaign that portrayed Caldwell as greedy, pointing out that he has been paid $200,000 annually in recent years to be on the Territorial Savings Bank’s board of directors. Caldwell repeatedly pointed out that the Ethics Commission had issued an opinion stating their was no conflict in holding the post, which he first accepted while still in the state House of Representatives.
Save Our City received $170,000 of its funding from Dennis Mitsunaga, president of local architectural, engineering and construction management firm Mitsunaga and Associates. An additional $36,490 came from 11 Mitsunaga officials and employees. Cayetano, in recent days, contributed $5,000.
Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro won a second four-year term, handily beating little-known opponent Anosh Yaqoob.
All three incumbent City Council members competing in general election contests won re-election handily.
In Council District 5 (Kaimuki to Kakaako), Ann Kobayashi beat opponent Kimberly Case. In District 7 (Kalihi to Foster Village), Joey Manahan bested Chace Shigemasa, and in District 9 (Mililani Town to Ewa Beach), Ron Menor beat Emil Svrcina.
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 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 reporters Kathryn Mykleseth and Nanea Kalani contributed to this report.