HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The three main candidates for mayor squared off in their first mayoral debate Thursday, with Oahu's beleaguered rail project dominating much of the discussion.
Incumbent Mayor Kirk Caldwell took the stage alongside former Mayor Peter Carlisle and former U.S. Congressman Charles Djou in the forum, which was hosted by the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association at the Neal Blaisdell Center.
While many issues were discussed -- from homelessness to illegal vacation rentals to what can be done to instill public confidence in a police department embroiled in controversy -- the overwhelming focus of the debate was rail.
"Rail is the hottest issue of this election, no doubt about it," said Caldwell, during the forum. "I have never ever, ever run from rail. I've run to rail. I've fought for rail. I've campaigned for rail and I am committed to building the entire system."
Caldwell says if he's re-elected, he wants the rapid transit project completed. He says the deadline extension he asked the Federal Transit Administration for will enable him to work with all federal, state and county partners to find the funding needed to get there.
"I'm taking a reasonable approach to a complex problem to come up with a solution to build all 20 miles, all 21 stations, all the way to Ala Moana," Caldwell said.
Carlisle agrees that the full, 20-mile project should be built. He blamed legal challenges, which contributed to significant delays, for pushing up costs.
"Plow ahead with what you can with reduced spending at every turn," Carlisle said.
The former city prosecutor says he would support an extension of the excise tax surcharge to make rail happen the way it was promised to the community.
"Once we get that up, then you're going to have a far more likelihood of being able to get funds from sources other than what we've been given so far," Carlisle said. "This shouldn't be half a rail where you put people on the road back behind where all the traffic already is -- that's a recipe for disaster."
Djou argues the city needs to build to its budget.
"$7 billion has got to be enough," Djou said. "What we need to do no. 1 is make a clear commitment that we are not going to keep on raising taxes every time there's another cost overrun."
The former city council member says he doesn't want a penny more than the $6.8 billion cap established by City Council to come from taxpayers – even if that means stopping at Middle Street and needing to find other alternatives like an expanded bus system to get riders to Ala Moana and beyond.
"I am not wed to any one system. I am not wed to any one plan. What I am wed to is terminating these enormous cost overruns. What I am wed to is stopping these continual tax increases. What I am wed to is fixing this mess of a project before it bankrupts Honolulu," Djou said.
Hawaii News Now will be hosting a debate with the three main candidates for Honolulu mayor on August 2. The three will square off on KGMB starting at 7 p.m.