Why are Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s popularity ratings down there in the dumpster along with President Trump’s during his last year in office?

Well, let me count the ways. Rail comes up as numbers one through ten. Then there’s the homeless that never go away from our streets and parks. His effort to remake “Sherwood Forest” in Waimanalo to his liking. The abortive playground plan for Ala Moana Regional Park. And not standing up against the state approval of windmills too close to a school and homes in Kahuku. And finally, rail again!

But maybe, just maybe, it’s because we have a tendency to love a new mayor on election day and then set about dissecting him or her most every day afterward. At least since I came here in January of 1963.

Neal Blaisdell was a get-it-done kind of mayor but as a Republican he was perceived as playing too much footsie with the Democrat Gov. John Burns. It was said the two men’s “bagmen” collected campaign money that they shared.

Frank Fasi, a Democrat, a Republican, an Independent, was a case unto itself. He sat on a curb and cried the first time he lost an election. Then he was off to the races. TheBus and the City Hall grass. Removing the left turn from Kapiolani Blvd. onto Ward Avenue. Kukui Plaza development. Oh, that! That’s where he was charged with taking kickbacks and giving kickbacks. The truth shall remain unknown because the key player, developer Hal Hansen refused to say boo, and went to prison without complaint, but never testified and died. We loved to hate Fast and hated loving him other times.

We briefly tried Eileen Anderson, a City Council veteran. But mayoral demands proved to be way over her head. She was a political disaster and we shed her after one term and brought back Fasi.

Jeremy Harris arrived from an unsuccessful and poorly run campaign for Kauai mayor and became Fasi’s managing director and then mayor. He installed all those flower pots in Waikiki. He was a technocrat more than a politician. He got a national planning award. Then a prominent lawyer was indicted for allegedly feeding $9,000 illegal campaign money to Harris from Foodland. Harris went back to his first love, academics and science and sold his Honolulu estate in Kalihi Valley. You never hear of him.

Mufi Hannemann? Started out swimmingly, improved Chinatown. Then came his rail. He never recovered. People turned him down for every political office afterwards. Why? Folks just said “I don’t know but I just don’t like or trust him.” He’s buried in that hotel-tourism lobbying job. He should have been working for us in Congress. Instead, we chose Tulsi Gabbard. You know how that turned out.

Tulsi Gabbard and Mufi Hannemann

I tend to overlook Peter Carlisle, one of our few successful Republicans of modern day and the man who beat Caldwell in that year’s race. I think we voted for him because he’d once chased off a woman’s attacker downtown with his golf club. That and because he’d been a good city prosecutor with no major missteps. But the mayor job was bigger than the man and he was gone after one term.

Caldwell — maybe we get tired of mayors in their second terms. Maybe he developed a fault line. Political writer Neal Milner calls him an offloader. “Offloading isn’t a well-conceived, good-governance delegation of authority. It’s a desperate dump. It’s about having a load of dangerous, toxic political crud that you want to jettison — to make it someone else’s problem.” Rail again!

Milner again in Civil Beat: “Rail has been Caldwell’s issue from virtually the get go. He has been the champion weaver of sunny, optimistic rail tales, the rail point person before the Legislature as well as the feds.”

He adds that “Few [ in a recent poll]said the mayor has done a good job of managing what is considered the largest infrastructure project in Hawaii’s history. Only 10 percent of Oahu voters said they like how he’s handled the adversity.’

Come 2022 and Caldwell intends to run for governor. The train project will still be incomplete and still a tax-money drainer that year. It will haunt him and give opponents a powerful cudgel.

We’ve elected a political neophyte as the new mayor, Rick Blangiardi, perhaps looking for new blood, perhaps because we know his name from his constant TV news editorials. He’s get a few months leeway, then we’ll start pounding on him.

It’s what we do.

Oh, and notice something odd? In the list of mayors above, not a single AJA name!


Published by Bob Jones

Journalist since age 19. St. Petersburg Times, Noticias y Viajes in Madrid, Overseas Weekly in Frankfurt and Paris, the Louisville Courier- Journal, the Honolulu Advertiser, KGMB-TV, NBC News foreign correspondent in Africa and Southeast Asia, and MidWeek columnist. LL.B LaSalle University Law. 3 years in the U.S. Air Force. Covered: Biafran War in Nigeria (1968) Vietnam War (1969-73), Iraq in 1991. George Foster Peabody Award for distinguished journalism for reporting in China. 2 Emmys for documentaries. Married to journalist Denby Fawcett; one daughter. Brett Jones, foreign service officer, State Department.

3 replies on “Why Isn’t He Loved By Voters?”

  1. AJA…hmmm. True.
    Look, this rail thing was called in the beginning by Cliff Slater et al. It’s the myopic VOTERS — the root — who wanted jobs. Short term reasoning pushed this payola project through and now when those same voters learn of the cost, total fudg-it, and pocket lining, they’re upset. Well, too bad, so sad. Untethered development is still the State’s greatest sustainability threat. It’s not too late (just painful) to stop that thing AND that footbridge over Ala Moana.

  2. I think for Caldwell, there was a bit of flexibility in the minds of voters before the beginning of this year. Yes, he was point and center on rail, and he was making missteps along the way with Sherwoods, but it seemed that people were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

    Then COVID 19 came along. What we found was a leader that had no problem converting from a political person to one that sounded a lot like a parent continuing to punish children. His initial foray into controlling the virus seemed tone deaf to a lot of the issues that came from it. And his continued messaging has been, well, condescending at best, downright bad parent at worst.

    I think also his channeling the plantation era as part of his verbal and non-verbal communication has also been an issue. It might not be the crux of why people don’t like him, but the fact that he promotes that time, without understanding that for some those times were not pleasant especially for the field workers, tells me that he seems tone deaf to the continuing evolution of historical analysis.

    I think that Blangiardi comes in and, with his style already defined through years on television, with his editorials, people know exactly what they are going to get, day one, in messaging. His messages then were somewhat political in nature but there was also a feeling that his message was a lot less “demeaning” than what Caldwell has been expressing.

  3. There’s also a federal grand jury shadow over Caldwell’s reign. Have the feds stopped sniffing around City Hall after turning up no hard evidence? Or are they simply waiting for a new mayor and new prosecutor to take over so as not to unduly disrupt city government when they drop the hammer and roll out the indictments? Then again, the changing federal administration could also pull the plug and slide us back into the good ol’ days of impunity.

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