Former Gov. Ben Cayetano
Former Gov. Ben Cayetano is running for Honolulu Mayor

EDITOR’S NOTE: Former Gov. Ben Cayetano issued this editorial to the Star-Advertiser after the daily paper’s editorial section attacked his release of several internal emails from the FTA critical of the city’s planned rail project. Cayetano is running for Honolulu mayor.

BY FORMER GOV. BEN CAYETANO – Since when is telling the public the truth a disservice?  The Star-Advertiser editors’ complaint that I “cherry-picked” five emails from roughly 500,000 documents to “turn public opinion against the (rail) project – and simply to boost my candidacy for mayor” – is absurd.

First, the public needs no spin from me or anyone else to turn against rail.  They have already turned, according to the Star-Advertiser’s own poll (“Rail Support Falls” February 12, 2012). Another major poll shows even greater opposition.

Second, your editorial ignores the difference between the candid utterances of career FTA officials believing that they are writing privately to each other, and the fawning grandstanding of their boss Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.  In testifying before Senator Dan Inouye’s Appropriations Committee, LaHood revealed how little he knows about the City’s rail project when he said that it “will deliver people all over the island” – an astonishing statement that even Inouye should know is not true.

Third, criticizing me for “cherry-picking is like faulting a gold miner for not showing others the tons of gravel he had to sort through to find a few nuggets of gold.  And make no mistake, these emails are nuggets in the eyes of anyone who wants to know what FTA staffers, not their politically appointed bosses, think of the City’s rail project, including the City’s “lousy practices of public manipulation.”

Fourth, you have the 500,000 page Administrative Record which we delivered to your office.  Perhaps if you ever get around to reviewing it, you will “cherry pick” your own nuggets and whether they are pro-rail or anti-rail we hope you will reveal them to the public.

Fifth, I find it ironic that your editors would complain about my efforts to turn public opinion against rail.  The editorial in question is just the latest of many editorials in which the Star-Advertiser defended or sang the praise of the City’s proposed elevated, heavy rail project.  I thought it was a “disservice” when the Star-Advertiser quoted Secretary LaHood’s off the cuff statement that rail would improve traffic without mentioning that the FTA and the City’s own experts have acknowledged that rail – even if it worked as planned – would not reduce the current level of traffic congestion.

Finally, the Star-Advertiser is accurate when it implies that my mayoral campaign has been helped by these “smoking gun” emails.  This is because the public understands what it means when FTA staffers talk about the City’s “lousy practices of public manipulation” and predict that the City will find itself in “a pickle” by rushing to start construction before it can be ready and has secured federal funding.

As the state’s only major daily newspaper, the Star-Advertiser has at least a moral obligation to investigate and give the public both the pros and cons of the rail project.  Although news stories about the number of seats in a train are interesting – they pale when compared to the big unanswered questions about the project.  How does HART justify awarding multi-million dollar rail contracts when no Full Funding Agreement has been reached and approved by Congress?  What will the City do if none or only part of the federal funds is approved by Congress?  What will the City do if it loses the lawsuit now pending in federal court?  What will the City do if funding runs out and the project is only partly completed?

The City, HART, the Mayor, the City Council and Senator Inouye have all been asked but still remain silent on these major questions.  The Star-Advertiser itself has done nothing to get answers.  Rather then complain about “cherry picking” the Star-Advertiser should press its reporters to get answers to the questions.  The public deserves answers.

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