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The two men square off in a winner-take-all election Saturday.
Former state Attorney General Margery Bronster, who worked closely with Carlisle when she was chairwoman of the Law Enforcement Coalition, said the passion he shows for his work, his commitment to the community and his political independence is what distinguishes him.
"I think Peter has worked hard to make sure that the laws in effect enable prosecutors to make the community safer and trying to make sure the places where he sees problems with the law get fixed," Bronster said.
As to his independence, Carlisle has demonstrated he will do what he believes is the right thing "not because he thinks the public will support it; he'll do it because it's right," Bronster said.
Supporters cite the ongoing investigation and prosecution of individuals for campaign spending violations as an example.
"I think it's critically important that you have a prosecutor who's willing to pursue cases even if they involve political issues," said Bronster, who took on the Bishop Estate trustees when she was attorney general.
City information officer Doug Woo, a former political reporter with KGMB who went to work for Kaneshiro when he became Honolulu prosecutor in 1988, said Kaneshiro approached problems with a deep commitment to the community and with compassion.
"From small decisions to major policy decisions, Keith Kaneshiro always came from a position of integrity and what's good for the community, and I saw that again and again and again," he said.
"As a prosecutor, you can go to trial and win a case, but you're reacting to the crime problem because the crime has already been committed," Woo said.
But Kaneshiro's strength is getting to the root causes of crime by using the office of the prosecutor to leverage the resources in the community, he said. And because he uses a cooperative approach, he's able to forge partnerships with police; the Legislature; local, federal and international law enforcement agencies; and the private sector to effectively fight crime.
As Honolulu prosecutor, Carlisle is responsible for a staff of about 250, including 100 deputy prosecutors, and an annual budget of $14 million.
He personally prosecuted eight high-profile cases, including Xerox murderer Byran Uyesugi and police officer Clyde Arakawa, who killed 19-year-old Dana Ambrose in a drunken-driving accident.
"If you expect people to go to the courthouse and deal with the current criminal justice system, you have to be willing to do the same thing," Carlisle said.
It includes going before the Legislature to support laws that give fair treatment to victims and witnesses of crime and giving police better tools to shut down drug houses, prosecute drug dealers and their organizations, he said.
Kaneshiro's extensive background as a crime fighter makes him the more experienced candidate who knows the criminal justice system inside out, Woo said.
Kaneshiro has drafted legislation targeting criminals, including the nuisance abatement law to get rid of drug dealers from neighborhoods. He has enforced the laws as a state and city prosecutor and he was a former state public safety director.
Kaneshiro, 55, says a prosecuting attorney must be an advocate for public safety, not just a trial attorney. If elected, he said, he will go before the Legislature to push for better laws, making sure there's additional prison space and programs for drug offenders.
Carlisle points to good relationships and increased cooperation between his office and local and federal law enforcement in helping significantly reduce crime rates and getting repeat property-crime and auto-theft offenders off the streets.
Carlisle said he has not sought endorsements from any group, particularly from the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, to avoid any conflict of interest, particularly when cases involving police officers arise. However, the United Public Workers, one of the state's largest public employee unions, reported in their newsletter this week that they were endorsing him for prosecutor.
Kaneshiro has been endorsed by SHOPO. Union officials said they are frustrated that the Prosecutor's Office is not listening to their concerns and are letting suspects go instead of charging them.
While not all cases are dropped, some suspects that police feel should be charged are being released because they don't meet certain charging criteria, said Alex Garcia, Oahu chapter president.
Retired police Lt. Roger Lau, who served as sheriffs administrator under Kaneshiro when he was public safety director, said he agreed to become campaign manager because Kaneshiro was in the race for the right reasons.
"The guy feels strongly about 'ice' screwing up this community and the prosecutor's office not using the tools it has to respond, and he feels strongly he can make a difference," Lau said.
Paul Cunney, an attorney who has defended clients in DUI, murder, drug and sex-assault cases for the past 20 years, says it's important to have a visible prosecuting attorney and disagrees with critics who call Carlisle a publicity hound.
"You gotta lead from the top, and he's an inspiration to his top attorneys by rolling up his sleeves and taking on cases," Cunney said.
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