Kirk Caldwell was born in Waipahu and raised in Hilo, the oldest son of a country plantation doctor father and a fearless, outgoing mother. His family still lives on the Big Island. Kirk’s first job was working on the “weed spray gang” at Puna Sugar Company, tough work his parents wanted him to experience, and that shaped his understanding of the needs of working people.
Kirk graduated from HPA in Kamuela and went on to study Urban Planning and Economics at Tufts University, earn his Master’s at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and his law degree from the UH William S. Richardson School of Law. His earliest experience in the public arena was working in the Washington DC office of Senator Daniel K. Inouye.
Kirk was Managing Partner at the Ashford and Wriston law firm and began his public service career in 2002, when he was elected to the State House of Representatives where he quickly rose to become the House Majority Leader. He served as Managing Director of Honolulu in 2009, and as Acting Mayor in 2010. He was elected Mayor in 2012.
Kirk Caldwell kept his promises to repave roads, upgrade sewers and infrastructure, and improve customer service at satellite city halls and the DMV. He was tireless in his efforts to address long-standing challenges like homelessness and transportation equity. He was recognized nationally as a leader to make Honolulu greener and plan for climate change.
Most importantly, from the earliest threats of the pandemic Mayor Kirk Caldwell and his team responded to the challenge with courage and commitment, protecting community health, instituting rapid testing, feeding families in need, assisting small businesses, and effectively putting federal CARES funding to work. He left office prior to wide vaccine distribution, yet with Honolulu ranked as among the safest cities in the country.
Kirk has been married for 40 years to Donna Tanoue, who served as State Commissioner of Financial Institutions in the Ariyoshi administration, was appointed by President Bill Clinton as Chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), and is former Vice Chair for Bank of Hawai‘i. Their daughter Maya graduated with a degree in history from Tufts University.