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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 29, 2008

'Hypocritical' attacks intensify rivalry

 •  Fight rages over potential ballot issue

By Sean Hao
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Ben Cayetano

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"Rather than attack the message there are arguments to be made for this thing on both sides the guy (Hannemann) is really trying to take the offensive and kill the messenger. I don't think it's fair. It's like David versus Goliath, only this time Goliath is winning."

Ben Cayetano | Former governor

"Everyone knows Ben Cayetano has been staunchly anti-rail throughout his career and fundraised and vigorously supported my opponent in the last mayoral election."

Mufi Hannemann | Honolulu mayor

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Advertisements aimed at linking local anti-rail groups to Mainland special interests are generating their own controversy.

Mayor Mufi Hannemann last week spent campaign money on several ads attacking the Stop Rail Now movement, which wants to put an anti-rail measure on the November ballot. Those groups have since fired back claiming the ads are inaccurate and misleading. The ads also have been labeled as hypocritical by former Gov. Ben Cayetano.

Anti-rail groups want to prevent Hannemann from building a $3.7 billion, 20-mile elevated commuter train linking East Kapolei to Ala Moana. Stop Rail Now said it plans to complain about the ads to the Federal Transit Administration and the Federal Trade Commission. The group's biggest beef is that the ads claim local anti-rail groups are allied with Mainland ultra-conservative groups, and oil and chemical companies.

"There's absolutely no money coming from the Mainland period, let alone from (petroleum) and chemical companies," said Stop Rail Now co-founder Dennis Callan. "Where's the proof? It would certainly undermine our credibility, if it were true."

Hannemann said, "The ad merely points out what's widely known on the Mainland, and confirmed to me by my fellow mayors, and that is that far-right so-called 'think tanks' are in fact behind the anti-rail movement all across the country."

The print ads say Honolulu's anti-rail effort is not broad based but is driven mainly by retired businessman Cliff Slater, Charley's Taxi President Dale Evans and Panos Prevedouros, a University of Hawai'i transportation engineering professor and president of Hawaii Highway Users Alliance. The ad notes the three are members of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii's mission, according to its Web site, is to promote individual liberty, the free market and limited accountable government. The Web site lists Slater and Evans as board members and Randal O'Toole, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, as a member of its Board of Scholars. O'Toole has authored numerous articles criticizing rail projects.

"The Grassroot Institute, the Hawaii Highway Users Alliance and the other anti-rail organizations are being coached by their Mainland counterparts," Hannemann said in an e-mail response last week. "It's ironic that a group that prides itself on defense of the First Amendment would run to federal agencies to try to suppress an opposing view. I'm sure any sort of complaint will be dismissed as baseless."

GRASSROOT ISSUE

Hannemann's ad also links current Grassroot Institute of Hawaii President Jamie Story to her former employer the Texas Public Policy Center. The ad says the Texas Public Policy Center is a crusader for road-based construction, which has a consultant that advocated against rail projects in several cities. The American Highway Users Alliance has hired the same anti-rail consultant, according to the ad.

Callan, who launched Stop Rail Now with local physician Michael Uechi, acknowledged that some anti-rail supporters are associated with the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. However, there's no formal association between Stop Rail Now and the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, he said. Story was unavailable for comment Friday.

Stop Rail Now needs to gather about 45,000 signatures to place an anti-rail petition on the November ballot. The group said it had collected about 30,000 signatures as of late last week.

Hannemann's ads attacking anti-rail groups prompted Cayetano to enter the fray and criticize Hannemann's handling of the project.

"Rather than attack the message there are arguments to be made for this thing on both sides the guy (Hannemann) is really trying to take the offensive and kill the messenger," Cayetano said in a phone interview Friday. "I don't think it's fair. It's like David versus Goliath, only this time Goliath is winning."

Hannemann countered that, "Everyone knows Ben Cayetano has been staunchly anti-rail throughout his career and fundraised and vigorously supported my opponent in the last mayoral election."

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

Cayetano, who said he signed the anti-rail petition, raised questions about conflicts of interest relating to transit project contracts.

The project's largest contractor is Parsons Brinckerhoff, which has an $86 million deal with the city. The other major contractor is InfraConsult LLC, which has an $11.5 million deal to manage the rail project for the city. InfraConsult was founded in part by former Parsons Brinckerhoff employees.

The train project is run by the city transportation department, which is led by director Wayne Yoshioka, a former Parsons Brinckerhoff engineer. Yoshioka has promised to recuse himself from key decisions regarding his former employer.

"It's a bit hypocritical to attack these people personally as having a conflict of interest when the conflicts with the consultants are far greater in terms of its impact on public financing," Cayetano said.

Hannemann's ad also points out that Story, the head of the Grassroots Institute of Hawaii, is a former Miss Texas who "has just moved to Hawai'i." The anti-rail movement in Hawai'i is "part of a national effort to maintain the status quo," the ad says.

Stop Rail Now's Callan countered that Hannemann, who is funding the ads with campaign money, has raised cash from Mainland rail contractors.

Between November 2004, when Hannemann was elected, to December 2007 the mayor raised $2.26 million for his campaign. About $163,000, or 7.2 percent, has come from contractors involved in the planning of the rail project, their employees and families, according to an Advertiser search of Hawai'i Campaign Spending Commission records.

Employees of New York-based rail contractor Parsons Brinckerhoff contributed $17,175 to Hannemann's campaign during that period. That figure includes former employees. Most of that money $16,750 came from Parsons Brinckerhoff employees with out-of-state addresses.

Reach Sean Hao at shao@honoluluadvertiser.com.