Caldwell reflects on mayoral terms with hopes for a gubernatorial run

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell wraps up his final days at Honolulu Hale this week. He reflected on what got done and what he still hopes to achieve in the future, when he sat down with KHON2’s Gina Mangieri on Thursday.

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If any politician had to pick the biggest challenge to take on in the final year of office, none would choose a killer virus.

“I would have never, ever, ever imagined I’d be dealing with a pandemic in my last 10 months of my term,” Caldwell said. “But you know, it comes with the territory and I really appreciate that I had the opportunity to lead our island during this period of time.”

Caldwell’s political career goes back decades, starting at the state House of Representatives, then as managing director for Mayor Mufi Hannemann and interim mayor before his straight eight years in office.

“I like the executive,” Caldwell said. “You covered me (at the Capitol) and I love the legislative side, that was fun. Going and debating on the floor every day, that was fun. But being executive, you can do things.”

So he’s looking ahead to future opportunities.

“I’m looking at the possibility of running for governor,” Caldwell said. “It’s the other executive job. I wish I could keep this job another term.”

KHON2 asked the mayor what kind of governor he would be, over there on the other side of the street, that could still benefit the City and County of Honolulu?

“That’s a prescient question you asked, because it’s something I say ‘Man, if I was on the other side of Punchbowl from where I’m sitting now, what would I do different to assist the City and County of Honolulu and other counties and just be a stronger state?'” Caldwell said. “And one thing for sure: Department of Health. I think they really need to be revamped. I think their response initially, that is one thing I should have fought harder. I should have pushed harder.”

“I think (DOH Director) Libby Char is starting to turn the course,” he added, “But there needs to be more emphasis and attention put there. But I also think a stronger reaction to things, a quicker reaction to things, is something I would do as a governor. You know, as mayor, I am someone who charges. Sometimes people say don’t go and I still go.”

Caldwell sees state infrastructure, education, the environment and better managing tourism’s size and scope as statewide priorities he’d champion. But it all comes at a cost, at a time when public dollars are stretched to the max.

KHON2 also asked the mayor about the cost of debt service for Honolulu that has been soaring as a proportion of operating budgets year after year, and what Honolulu should do about that. We also asked him about what he would do as a future governor if elected?

“We’ve managed our fiscal responsibility very, very well. And it’s for two reasons. One is very unpopular. I have been a mayor who has proposed increases in fees. We created (property tax category) Res-A. We’ve raised the (property tax) rate for hotel and resort. We’ve added certain types of fees. But to be fiscally responsible, you have to raise revenue and control costs, and our bond rater said City and County of Honolulu, you’ve done that. So I think doing that on the state side is something important, too.”

As he packs up his office, we asked Caldwell if there is any other baggage he wishes he could leave behind?

“One thing I regret looking back eight years now is I wish I would have dreamed bigger and I wish I would have started sooner,” Caldwell said. “On rail, I wish I would have been less trusting of numbers and schedules earlier on. It took about three years before I really started doubting what was being told to me. And of course, I went to the legislature twice asking for money, both times not enough.”

As of next week, first up on his down time will be to fish off the Big Island where he is from, spend more time with his wife and daughter. Caldwell says he wants to offer to teach some law school classes and even write a book profiling some everyday heroes from the pandemic.

“I want to do it quickly, while the pandemic is still present,” he said, “because I think it gives hope. Courage gives hope.”

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