BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – As fiery as ever, Former Hawaii Gov. Benjamin Cayetano held a press conference on Thursday at Cycle City in Mapunapuna where he announced his candidacy for Honolulu Mayor.
The 72-year old Cayetano, who spent 28 years in public office, stood before a packed room of supporters surrounded by his family and close friends and advisors. Cayetano, who has never lost an election, said he is coming out of retirement because of his concerns over the high cost of living for Oahu residents and the way the city is managing its finances.
A Democrat, Cayetano is backed by a wide variety of people including Republicans and Independents, because of his stance as the lone candidate against the proposed $5.3 billion elevated steel on steel rail system.
Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle, who was endorsed by Cayetano in the 2010 special mayoral election, is one of the rail project’s strongest supporters as is former City Managing Director Kirk Caldwell – both are running against Cayetano in the August primary.
While Caldwell and Carlisle defended the rail project and their support of the 20-mile project from Kapolei to Ala Moana, Cayetano said the rail project will bankrupt the city, destroy cultural areas and Hawaiian burial grounds, and take away view plains that are so important to the island.
Cayetano also noted the project “doesn’t make sense” because it starts in an empty field in Kapolei and in three years, would extend just to Waipahu, a town nearby. He questioned who will ride a train from an empty field in Kapolei, to Waipahu, a town several miles from Downtown Honolulu, except politicians who voted for the project.
“This is not the legacy I want left to future generations. It is irresponsible for us to burden them with huge debt and a city whose beauty is scarred by a wall of concrete snaking along its waterfront, running over ancient burial sites. Our future generations deserve better,” Cayetano said.
A group of 7 plaintiffs, including Cayetano and his close friend and campaign advisor Walter Heen, filed a federal lawsuit last Spring to stop the rail project from being built based on violations in the Environmental Impact Statement. That lawsuit, organized through HonoluluTraffic.com, is still pending.
The money the city plans to spend on the rail should instead be spent on repairing Oahu’s aging infrastructure, Cayetano said. He pointed to the city’s sewer system, which is required to have a $5 billion upgrade, the water system, which needs as much as $5 billion in repairs, the deteriorating “third world” roads, which need $1.6 billion in repairs, and storm drains throughout the island that need $800 million in fixes. He also noted city parks are in disrepair, including bathrooms which are dirty and often don’t have basic necessities such as toilet paper and soap.
Cayetano’s strong statements, and criticism that Carlisle isn’t doing a good job as mayor, led Cha Thompson, Carlisle’s campaign spokesperson, to issue a press release later in the day saying: “Rail will not bankrupt the city. It’s an investment in the next generation, offering commuters a quality of life choice in dealing with traffic misery. Mayor Peter Carlisle is committed to bringing fiscal discipline to the city. He will grow our economy by continued investments in sewer upgrades, road repairs and other infrastructure projects.”
And Caldwell, who served as interim mayor briefly when then Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann resigned to run for governor, said “Rail transit is an important issue in this election. However, this election is about so much more.”
Caldwell said the election is about the “buses that take people to and from their jobs everyday. the HandiVan service, bus passes, it’s about protecting people and their property, filling pot holes and repaving their roads.”
“If you want a world traveler or a single issue candidate, I’m not your guy. I’ll be a Mayor who understands the details, rolls up his sleeves, digs in, gets serious, brings people together, listens to ideas . . . and solves problems. That’s how I did things when I was Mayor, that’s how we’ll get the job done … everyday, hands on,” Caldwell said.
Traditionally, Cayetano has enjoyed endorsements from Hawaii’s public worker unions. He is hoping that will continue, even if the private construction unions campaign against him because of his stance on rail.
“I’ve had some tough battles with them (Public unions) and hopefully that can be set aside and they can take a look at this very objectively and in their own self interest,” said Cayetano, of the public workers’ unions.
Public union workers will benefit if the rail fails, Cayetano said, because the cost of the project threatens to take away money that could be used to pay their pensions and health benefits and salary increases.
Cayetano is planning to meet with the police union, SHOPO and call others to set up appointments about an endorsement.
The former governor, who authored a book and played golf while in retirement from his political life since 2002, said his wife Vicky supports his decision to run because she knew he would be miserable if he didn’t.
Cayetano said what makes him different from other candidates (besides his stance against rail) is every mayor has run for that office as a stepping stone to becoming governor. He, on the other hand, “has been there, done that.”
“I just want to be mayor,” he said, adding he plans to work hard and have fun during this campaign.