In mayoral debate, candidates take on rail, homelessness

In mayoral debate, candidates take on rail, homelessness
Published: Sep. 29, 2016 at 9:51 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 29, 2016 at 10:20 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In what could be their final debate before the Nov. 8 election, Mayor Kirk Caldwell and challenger Charles Djou squared off Thursday, sparring over affordable housing, the state of Oahu's roads and what government should do to help businesses succeed.

And, of course, they clashed on rail.

In fact, much of the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii-sponsored debate centered on Honolulu's beleaguered $8 billion rail project.

Before a group of about 100 attendees, Djou painted the rail project as in need of a complete overhaul in leadership, while Caldwell said the greatest work in coming years would be around finding new funding sources to pay for its growing price tag.

"I have talked to the feds three times for additional funding and they have said, 'After the election come back and see who's in the administration and ask again,'" Caldwell said.

Djou told attendees, "You have my word here that the very first day, if I'm fortunate to be your next mayor, I will sign an order to get a (rail) audit done."

On homelessness, Djou said the city continues to see more people on the streets, and argued the situation has gone from bad to worse.

But Caldwell defended his "compassionate disruption" approach, saying his administration has housed 1,000 people and over 800 homeless veterans while also working to clear homeless people from parks and sidewalks.

"Homelessness didn't happen in four years. It happened over the decades and it will take a while to solve, but we're on the path to solving it," he said.

In last month's primary election, Caldwell bested Djou by just 1,530 votes, a result that rattled the incumbent mayor.

Hawaii News Now political analyst Colin Moore said it's not clear what voters would gain from more debates, and none are scheduled at this time.

"The last few, they've pretty much talked about the same thing," Moore said.

The debate wrapped up with both candidates making a final pitch to voters.

Caldwell told the crowd that being mayor is a tough job -- but one that he wants to keep.

"I want the job again," he said. "My wife thinks I'm crazy sometimes. It's a difficult job. And, by the way, in this job there are always problems."

Djou, meanwhile, said: "When you go and cast your ballot just ask, 'Do you believe that our city today is better off than it was four years ago?' That should guide how you vote for mayor."

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