Mayor fends off challengers' attacks at forum
By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Peter Boylan
WAIPAHU — For the first time, the three front-runners in the Honolulu mayor's race met on the same stage yesterday to discuss issues ranging from rail transit to the infrastructure needs of growing O'ahu communities.
The challengers, City Council member Ann H. Kobayashi and University of Hawai'i engineering professor Panos D. Prevedouros, attacked Mayor Mufi Hannemann on several fronts. They accused him of spreading misinformation about the proposed $3.7 billion commuter rail project.
Hannemann didn't bite. He ignored the accusations and directly answered the questions posed by the moderator, KHNL News 8 anchor Howard Dashefsky, without jabbing back at his opponents.
More than 200 people came to the Filipino Community Center for the forum, which was sponsored by the Kapolei Chamber of Commerce and the West Oahu Economic Development Association.
It was not a debate, so there was no back and forth among the candidates. Each was allowed an opening and closing statement, and one to two minutes to answer Dashefsky's questions. Candidates were allowed to pose one question to their opponents.
Many of the questions dealt with issues facing Leeward O'ahu.
During his opening statement, Hannemann spoke of the work he's done for Kapolei and Leeward O'ahu as a businessman, City Council member and mayor.
"Long before I was the mayor, I promoted the growth of the 'Ewa development plan. Long before I was the mayor, I saw the need to keep water on this side of the island. Long before I was mayor, you all saw me out here, you saw me in the community, in the churches, in the schools. After I became mayor, I was sworn into office at Kapolei Hale. I broke a tradition.
"I have an office here (in Kapolei) that I work out of regularly. ... This is a mayor who has been (working) constantly and regularly in West O'ahu."
Prevedouros, who owns a condo in Kapolei that he and his fiancee rent out, said he wants to fix roads, sewers and streets not only on the west side, but all over the island.
"Traffic to and from Kapolei is terrible," he said. "Your travel times with rail will be substantially worse in the future. I am speaking to you as one of our nation's traffic experts."
"Are you better off now since you were in 2004?" he asked. "Taxes are up 46 percent. Have you seen city services improve by 46 percent? No."
Kobayashi said she had great admiration for the work done on and at the Filipino Community Center and spoke of how she helped approve funding for its construction.
"Over the past year, many people have asked me to run for mayor," she said. "I could stay in my council race, unopposed, but instead I have to run for mayor because I worry about the direction the city is heading in.
"I care about the economy. I decided to jump into the race to represent the people. Money power is great but people power is greater. We have a real grassroots network."
Hannemann and Kobayashi both said they support mass transit to alleviate traffic and congestion for Leeward O'ahu residents while Prevedouros maintained his position that mass transit is too expensive and will not solve congestion issues.
Hannemann also said the local economy will benefit from the construction project and developments that will be built along the transit route.
"You've been in perpetual traffic gridlock seven days a week. It's all about having choices, because that is what we're lacking," he said.
Kobayashi, who favors the mass-transit technology of rubber tires on concrete, said she is a longtime supporter of mass transit and would like some form of the project to move forward.
"I've always advocated for mass transit. I spent 14 years in the state Senate and there we recognized the problems, especially on this side of the island," she said. "We (on the City Council) know that mass transit is necessary. What we haven't agreed upon is the type of vehicle.
"I think that what the most important thing for this project is to let the people vote. As soon as that vote is taken, we must move forward and get this done."
Prevedouros, citing his experience as an engineer specializing in traffic control, said rail transit will cost taxpayers too much money and will do very little to alleviate traffic.
"This is the biggest misperception perpetrated here. Rail is a terrible idea and a tax sinkhole," Prevedouros said. The candidates talked about the complexities inherent in developing roads, sewers, schools and electrical grids needed to sustain all the new communities sprouting in the area.
"They build homes but they don't build roads. That is an amazing lack of doing the fundamentals," Prevedouros said.
Kobayashi said building the UH-West O'ahu campus would help reduce traffic by keeping students, faculty and staff on that side of the island.
Hannemann said he has formed partnerships between developers and city government to ensure infrastructure is built.
He pointed to the recent agreement between Kapolei Property Development and the city, in which the developer agreed to pay for $172 million in infrastructure in exchange for an expedited permitting process.
"That's what it takes, a leader who can work with business and labor," Hannemann said.
Reach Peter Boylan at email@example.com.