By Malia Zimmerman www.HawaiiReporter.com
"Tested and Trusted." That is the theme that Honolulu veteran city prosecutor Peter Carlisle will rely on in his upcoming mayoral campaign. He plans to enter the mayoral race in 2010 when Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann resigns to run for governor.
The popular three-term elected prosecutor has fought crime – including political corruption – for 13 years. Carlisle has made a name for himself through high profile criminal cases, having the opportunity to personally try several notorious cases, including that of Xerox mass murderer Byran Uyesugi. His record of fighting crime with style and a sense of humor - and winning tough cases in court - is notable.
Last election, Carlisle was reportedly considering a run for Congress, but he turned down the opportunity and maintained that being prosecutor is his “first love." While his feelings about his job haven’t changed, Carlisle says its time for him to take on a new challenge, and let the next generation in the prosecutor’s office take over.
“There is a system and a management team in place, which runs well even when I am not here, and that has allowed me the freedom to take some of our cases to trial. That expertise and system will continue to improve after I am gone,” Carlisle says. “The success is sustainable.” He would not comment on who he believes will run to replace him.
Though he wouldn’t disclose much of his political platform, Carlisle talked briefly about some hot button issues.
Layoffs/Furloughs: He knows that the next mayor will face tremendous budget challenges and have to make controversial and unpopular decisions, including whether to layoff or furlough workers.
Guns: He said Hawaii already has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation – something he approves of – but he won’t push for more restrictions. He says Hawaii’s low gun crime rate and overall low crime rate is proof that tough gun laws work.
Rail: He says the new law approved by voters in 2008 mandates the construction of a steel wheel on steel rail project, which he believes means he must continue to build the current mayor’s elevated system, stretching from Kapolei to Honolulu. He says he isn’t ready to say whether he’d support another technology, a ground level system instead of an elevated rail, or a shorter and less expensive rail route, but he believes that if there is a rail, it is going in the right place (west Oahu) to help alleviate the densest traffic.
Partisan Politics: Carlisle has emceed at Hawaii Republican conventions in recent years, but that will change. He plans to run in the non-partisan race as an independent and no longer participate in partisan events. He’s never had to select a political party before during his prosecutorial campaigns, and he won’t change that now.
Political Contributions: In the past, Carlisle has refused any contributions over $100. But that is about to change too. He realizes that to win a mayoral election on Oahu, he needs to raise millions of dollars. During the 2004 mayoral campaign, the two top candidates collectively reportedly spent more than $7 million combine. The failed 2008 campaign that Carlisle ran with Attorney General Mark Bennett in support of a constitutional convention taught him the importance of money - they were outspent by the teacher's union and other concon opponents 10 to 1.
Culture of Political Corruption: In the past, particularly under the administration of then Mayor Jeremy Harris, Honolulu City Hall has been notorious for its “pay to play” schemes. Private companies and citizens who wanted contracts, permits and zoning were expected to give political donations to politicians running the show. In 2000, Carlisle encouraged then Deputy Prosecutor Randall Lee’s investigation into illegal campaign contributions to Harris, and stood by Lee’s investigation and prosecution of contractors who laundered money to Harris. Bob Watada, then state campaign spending director, estimates that more than 100 companies laundered $1.5 million to Harris, constituting half of Harris' campaign war chest. Carlisle says if he is elected, there will be no "pay to play", no strings attached, and no "rewarding friends or punishing enemies", rather he will select people on the basis of talent, skill and experience and on what they know, not who they know. He says many of the people in his office have never given his campaign a dime, and yet they were promoted to supervisors.
Carlisle wasn’t prepared to speak about his plans for improving Oahu’s infrastructure, his position on raising or lowering skyrocketing taxes and fees, on plans to balance the budget in tough times, or what else he’ll propose in terms of his platform.
Though no one else has declared plans to run for mayor, Carlisle expects the race to be competitive.
Reportedly Honolulu Managing Director Kirk Caldwell is expecting to become mayor after the current Mayor Mufi Hannemann steps down in 2010 to run for Governor and Caldwell will most likely be backed by all the major public unions. Honolulu City Council Chair Todd Apo is considering whether to enter the race, and he’d likely be backed by developers as he works for KoOlina. University of Hawaii Professor Panos Prevedouros, who garnered nearly 30 percent of the vote in the 2008 mayoral election, is also looking at the mayor’s race in 2010.
So who will vote for Carlisle? “The people who put me in office before,” he said, noting that in past races, he had the major Democratic players in Hawaii’s notorious political machine helping his opponents.
Will he have the ability to overcome the stigma that he is just a law enforcement guy with no experience in the other areas of operating a major city?
In response to why voters should back him, he says: “I have the experience, I have worked my way up through the City & County, I am not involved in partisan politics, I don’t have plans for higher office, I don’t attach strings or reward people by whether they’ve helped me or not, and I have the legal background to rely on. I am tested and trusted - running for mayor is the next logical step for me.”
Reach Malia Zimmerman, editor of Hawaii Reporter, at Malia@hawaiireporter.com