HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The three leading candidates for Honolulu mayor made their first joint debate appearance Wednesday night, with former Gov. Ben Cayetano wasting no time going on the offensive against Mayor Peter Carlisle and former acting mayor Kirk Caldwell.
After Carlisle and Caldwell made their opening statements, Cayetano very briefly thanked everyone for coming, and then said, "Let's get right to the point: Kirk Caldwell, you've been going around saying i don't know anything about the city. Well, I know enough to know that the city's basic infrastructure is so old, deteriorating, and has been neglected."
Cayetano once against criticized the city's rail project, saying the money could be used to fix the infrastructure, including water mains and sewer lines.
Cayetano also aired his concerns that not all the funding is in place for the rail project. But Carlisle and Caldwell said the project has the support at the federal level from President Obama, and especially from Hawaii's senior U.S. Senator, Daniel Inouye.
"We've got the money to do with the GET (general excise) taxes," said Carlisle. "We've got it right now, and in terms of federal funds, we already know that Senator Inouye has virtually guaranteed it."
"He went to Washington since statehood, and he's been delivering every year, year in and year out," Caldwell said about Inouye. "And I believe that when he says he's going to get the money, he's going to get the money because he's always gotten the money."
"I respect Senator Inouye," Cayetano responded. "He's done a lot for our country and for our state, but we shouldn't defer to him. Respect him, but not defer. And what are you guys, potted plants? You get elected to make decisions," he said to the other candidates.
Caldwell dismissed Cayetano's opposition to rail. "I supported it from the very beginning, consistently all the way through up until this day. In fact, it's easier to oppose rail. Why? All you gotta say is no," said Caldwell.
The three appeared before an audience of more than a hundred people, most of them members of the local business community. They were asked a variety of questions, including one on how they would make it easier to do business in Honolulu. Cayetano promised reform, blasting the current process to get a city building permit.
"Right now the permit system is a joke," said Cayetano. "People can call up if they know the guys there and they can get their stuff done. That won't happen with me."
Carlisle challenged Cayetano, telling him, "If you have any facts or names of people who can just call up and get things done by calling up the building permit process and are committing a crime, you let me know and I'll take care of it. But before you make an accusation like that, you'd better have the facts to back it up, sir."
The debate was hosted by the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii.