Left to right: Ben Cayetano, Peter Carlisle, Kirk Caldwell

BY JIM DOOLEY – Honolulu’s three mayoral candidates met Wednesday evening in their first debate of the election season, with the city’s $5.3 billion rapid transit project getting most of their attention.

Left to right: Ben Cayetano, Peter Carlisle, Kirk Caldwell

Mayor Peter Carlisle and former City Managing Director Kirk Caldwell, rail supporters, repeatedly stressed the importance of the project for the city’s future, while former Governor Ben Cayetano called the massive undertaking a wasteful and misguided extravagance.

Carlisle and Caldwell argued that the underlying finances of the rail plan are solid, citing the firm support for the project from federal officials, including U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye.

“He’s out of touch, as far as I’m concerned,” Cayetano said of Inouye.

Inouye is the single most influential political figure in Hawaii, wielding enormous clout in Washington and at home in the Islands.

But Cayetano didn’t hold back.

“Senator Inouye has been listening to the government. He’s never listened to the people,” Cayetano said.

“Senator Inouye is up at the 30,000-foot level, dealing with national and international affairs. The senator should take time to go down to McDonalds, to talk to the retirees who go there to eat breakfast because it’s cheap,” said Cayetano.

Inouye’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Peter Boylan, Thursday declined comment other than to say: “Comments that mean-spirited and negative really don’t deserve a response”

Caldwell, a former Inouye aide, came to the senator’s defense in the debate, saying he senator’s connections with local voters were displayed recently when Caldwell and Inouye, and their wives, shared a meal at Kabuki Restaurant.

“It’s a good local place where people come in, construction workers and others, city workers. They all came up and said ‘hi’ to him. Before he left he went around and shook hands,” Caldwell said.

“This man, who’s in his 80’s, is totally engaged and committed to this community and knows people at all levels,” said Caldwell.

On other subjects, the candidates sometimes agreed, sometimes not.

Moderator Steve Petranik asked their feelings about three large proposed residential developments: Hoopili in West Oahu, Koa Ridge in Central Oahu and Envision Laie near the North Shore.

Caldwell said he favored all three; Carlisle expressed concerns about the North Shore project and Cayetano said he opposes Hoopili and has misgivings about Envision Laie.

On the site of Honolulu’s next garbage landfill, Carlisle said no decision is close to being made. Caldwell scorned the city’s recent mishandling of a survey of possible sites. Cayetano said the corrected results of that survey, which slightly favored the Kahuku area, was an “odd choice” because of its distance from the urban core and its narrow access roads.

Carlisle, a career prosecutor who was elected mayor in 2010, told the audience that he has worked to improve the city’s financial situation and is dedicated to bettering the quality of life in Honolulu.

“I can honestly tell you that this job is the highlight of my career,” Carlisle said, adding that he is working to make Honolulu “a lean, clean, smart city.”

Caldwell said his past government service, coupled with his experience in the business world as a private attorney, make him the best-qualified candidate. He hinted that Carlisle has been disengaged and said Cayetano has been “creating bogeymen to try to scare people” about the rail project.

Cayetano said his years of service as governor and legislator have convinced him that the city needs to concentrate its efforts and finances on the deteriorating infrastructure. And he described Carlisle and Caldwell as “potted plants” because of their deference to Inouye.

The debate was sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii. It was videotaped and will be broadcast on the Olelo   community television station.

The broadcasts can be seen at:

5/7 at 12:30pm channel 49
5/8 at 9:30am Channel 49
5/9 at 1:30pm Channel 49
5/11 at 6:00pm Channel 54
The debate can also be viewed online anytime at the following link:




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Jim Dooley joined the Hawaii Reporter staff as an investigative reporter in October 2010. Before that, he has worked as a print and television reporter in Hawaii since 1973, beginning as a wire service reporter with United Press International. He joined Honolulu Advertiser in 1974, working as general assignment and City Hall reporter until 1978. In 1978, he moved to full-time investigative reporting in for The Advertiser; he joined KITV news in 1996 as investigative reporter. Jim returned to Advertiser 2001, working as investigative reporter and court reporter until 2010. Reach him at Jim@hawaiireporter.com