5 political veterans vying for Honolulu mayoral seat
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer
Five battle-tested political veterans are already at the starting gate for the special election to replace Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who announced last week that he will resign July 20 to run for governor.
City Managing Director Kirk Caldwell, Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle, City Councilmen Donovan Dela Cruz and Rod Tam, and University of Hawai'i civil engineering professor Panos Prevedouros had announced they would be running for mayor months before Hannemann made his decision official last week.
This year's race for mayor will be a one-round, 16-week, winner-take-all affair that will be held in conjunction with this year's regularly scheduled primary election on Sept. 18. It is a special election to fill the last two years of Hannemann's four-year term, which ends in January 2013.
Others may still enter the race. Because Hannemann won't resign until the July 20 deadline for candidates in this year's regular elections, candidates technically can't even file to run for mayor until then. The City Charter dictates that mayoral hopefuls will have at least 10 days to file after the vacancy occurs and they may have as long as two weeks to do so, depending on what the City Council decides.
Of the five known candidates, polls and political experts have placed Carlisle as the early favorite. The elected city prosecutor since 1986, he has the most name recognition and is the only one of the five to win an O'ahu-wide race.
Carlisle's penchant for taking on high-profile cases, including the successful prosecutions of murderers Byran Uyesugi and Kirk Lankford, has helped his popularity.
"If you're running for office off of being prosecuting attorney, it gives you a leg up because it's a job that's highly visible and people think highly of," said Neil Milner, a professor of political science at the University of Hawai'i-Mānoa. "And it avoids the bad kind of politics."
In a five-way race, it may take far less than 50 percent of the vote to win. The last time this situation happened — in 1994 when Frank Fasi resigned to run for governor — Jeremy Harris won the mayoral special election with 30 percent of the vote.
"That's what the lesser-known candidates hope for in an election like this, that they don't have to get a large number of votes, they only need to get a plurality," Milner said.
And this year, the other four declared candidates each have their strengths and core constituencies they can tap, Milner said.
Caldwell has been Hannemann's second-in-command for nearly two years and may have history on his side. Harris was managing director when Fasi resigned to run for governor in 1994. Harris wound up beating better-known candidates in council members Arnold Morgado and Gary Gill, and state Sen. Ann Kobayashi.
Caldwell will become acting mayor when Hannemann resigns. He'll also have the advice and support of those who helped the outgoing mayor win two previous campaigns.
While he was elected to three terms in the state House of Representatives, Caldwell is largely unknown to the public. But given his position as acting mayor and the backing of the Hannemann forces, he represents somewhat of a wild card, Milner said.
Dela Cruz is perhaps the second best-known candidate behind Carlisle. He's been a councilman the past eight years, nearly four years as its chairman.
The Wahiawā native is the only one of the candidates whose power base lies outside of urban Honolulu. Dela Cruz will try to capitalize on his popularity in the growing Central O'ahu and other suburban and rural communities.
"The rural people in his district support him heavily," Milner said.
Publicity over Tam's recent city Ethics Commission fine for questionable expenses on his council contingency account could help place him at the bottom of the mayoral heap.
But Tam is also a veteran politician who has been in elective office longer than the others and has earned a reputation as a formidable grassroots campaigner.
Prevedouros, meanwhile, is the only one of the candidates to clearly distinguish himself from the others on the issue of Hannemann's $5.4 billion mass-transit project. Prevedouros stands alone in opposing what will be the state's largest capital improvements project ever. He finished third in the 2008 mayoral election behind Hannemann and Kobayashi.
"Panos has the possibility of mobilizing the people in that particular group, that could make a difference," Milner said.
Besides being attractive to anti-rail voters, Prevedouros may also capitalize on being the only one of the five to have never held elective office, which may have some appeal for those seeking someone outside the norm.
RAIL STILL AN ISSUE
Rail is clearly the biggest issue facing the city and the four other candidates unequivocally support it.
Both Caldwell and Dela Cruz said they support rail not just because it would help traffic flow and provide jobs, but because the project provides a planning tool that would revitalize areas of the island along the route.
Dela Cruz said he's a big supporter of the transit-oriented development plans that will reinvigorate the key hubs around the rail line.
"Mass transit, coupled with the proper land use policies, are going to allow Honolulu to be the most modern city in the Pacific," Dela Cruz said. "That's how we're going to be able to deal with our population growth."
Caldwell said of rail transit: "I think it's going to change how our city develops and grows in the future. It's going to recreate neighborhoods, it's going to enable people to live closer to where they work."
Traffic congestion endured by West O'ahu commuters "is unbearable and unacceptable" and it's their turn for relief, Carlisle said. Improvements have been done to Kalaniana'ole Highway to improve the drive for East Honolulu residents while H-3 Freeway has helped ease the traffic burden for Windward folks.
Tam said he supports the rail project, but believes a go-slow approach is needed. Issues have been raised including the possibility that Native Hawaiian burial remains are under portions of the route. "I want to look at public hearings," he said.
Prevedouros said there has not been enough discussion on other viable options. One might be using the old OR&L rail line that runs from Downtown Honolulu to Wai'anae. A form of at-grade light rail line could run along that route. "It's very obvious that rail alignment has never been studied in detail," he said.
Prevedouros is also focusing his campaign on eliminating waste. He not only wants to focus more effort on finding new alternatives to both solid waste and wastewater disposal, he wants to focus on ridding the city of government waste by increasing productivity and lowering taxes.
Tam, meanwhile, said there needs to be more confidence in government and the way its business is conducted. "I want to bring government back to the people, like how I do now, by going out into the community," he said. "Everybody knows I'm not one to sit behind the desk."
Caldwell said his No. 1 initiative would be to create more jobs, and he intends to do so by ramping up improvement projects that would benefit the city like road and sewer improvements, and moving out city building and planning permits more quickly.
Dela Cruz said he wants to do long-term planning of the city's sewers, roads and parks. "The city is too reactive."
Carlisle said "the most pressing issue is getting the fiscal house of the city and county in order. We can no longer afford government that we cannot afford."