Caldwell: Late But Listening

“Kirk Caldwell’s Listening Tour” stopped at Waimalu Elementary School cafeteria on a recent Tuesday evening. It enjoyed all the benefits of a mayoral candidate who has been endorsed by 15 major – and not so major – unions.

Adults and children, resplendent in “Kirk Caldwell for Mayor,” SHOPO and UPW T-shirts, waved vigorously along Moanalua Road in front of the school. A gaggle of firefighters gathered around a large “Firefighters Support Caldwell for Mayor” banner near the end of the line. So too did someone dressed in a panda suit. Passing motorists honked their support.

The “listening” was scheduled to begin at 6 p.m., but at 6 p.m. inside the cafeteria, it was announced that “Kirk will be here in 15 minutes, so let’s start eating.” Volunteers began dishing out stew and rice, tossed salad, and corn-bread. Most had finished chewing by the time Caldwell finally arrived at 6:45.

Caldwell apologized for his tardiness, joking that “traffic research” had caused it. He then launched into an introduction of himself as a Waipahu-born son of a plantation doctor who was brought up on the Big Island in a house across from the sugar mill. There he learned “a collaborative style” and “not to say bad things about others.”

Caldwell spoke of the satisfaction he’d drawn as city managing director “doing little things that helped make someone’s life a little better, seeing that a pothole was filled or that a park bathroom was repaired.” He expressed even greater satisfaction at pushing hard for “legacy projects” like an updated sewage system and rail transit that would make it possible for future generations to “live better around a redeveloped urban core.”

Then the candidate took questions, some of which dealt with subjects far outside city jurisdiction. Caldwell gamely tried to relate them to the city. Then landfills were mentioned. Caldwell jumped on the landfill commission for using bad data, “garbage in, and garbage out” to come up one day with Kailua, a few days later with Kahuku as a new site.

He reminded his audience that for at least seven more years the landfill will be at Waimanalo Gulch and that “we need to not forget that community. If we don’t want it, it goes out there: the Kahe power plant, H-power, the oil refineries at Campbell Industrial Park, the dump.

“That’s not fair. If you proposed a dump in the back of Manoa Valley where I live, people would go nuts. If West Oahu is to have the landfill for seven more years, the people in Nanakuli, Waianae and Makaha deserve a community-benefits package. Let’s underground their power lines so that they don’t lose power every time there’s a strong wind, or build the long-needed second access road. We have to address injustice there.”

Honolulu’s potholed streets were mentioned. Caldwell took it as a chance to score on incumbent Mayor Peter Carlisle.

“When I was at the city, I expedited $155 million in road repaving,” said Caldwell. “First, in order to flush money into our economic system and provide jobs, and second, in order to pave roads that are in disrepair. The current mayor decided he wanted to put the money aside for a rainy day. We need jobs – this is the rainy day.”

A supporter, jovially rephrased mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano’s recent criticism of Caldwell, asking whether he’d ever made a difficult decision.

“I’ll repeat what I said then. Everybody’s made hard decisions. Who’s Ben Cayetano to say that others haven’t? That indicates a degree of ego and arrogance that I’m not comfortable with. You’ll hear that Kirk Caldwell’s too nice a guy.

I do treat people with respect, but I make hard decisions. I ran to embrace rail. It’s easy to say no. It’s hard to support something people fear.”

And so it went – on homelessness, water main breaks, duplication of city and state services, and more – until 8 p.m. The meeting ended on time.