“HONOLULU- The race for Honolulu mayor got a lot more interesting Thursday after former Hawaii Governor Ben Cayetano ended weeks of speculation and announced he’s entering the race.
Cayetano, who served as governor from 1994 to 2002, said he was leaving retirement because of his growing concern over city finances and the high cost of living for Oahu residents. He announced his candidacy at a conference room at Cycle City in Mapunapuna.
Cayetano said he was waiting for someone to restore “common sense” to Honolulu Hale but no candidate emerged.
“So I feel duty bound to come out of retirement and today I am pleased to stand with you and announce my candidacy for mayor,” Cayetano told a crowd of about fifty supporters.
Cayetano, 72, is a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit that seeks to stop construction of the city’s $5.3 billion rail project from East Kapolei to Ala Moana. He said he would seek a cheaper alternative to rail, such as bus rapid transit, which was first proposed under former Mayor Jeremy Harris.
“It’s pretty well proven that you give the bus a dedicated lane, it’ll beat the train all the time,” said Cayetano, who estimated the cost of a BRT system at $1 billion.
NOT A ONE ISSUE CANDIDATE
While former Acting Mayor Kirk Caldwell and current Mayor Peter Carlisle will likely try to paint Cayetano as a ‘one issue’ candidate, Cayetano said it’s his two main opponents that are too focused on rail.
“Ask them about the parks (and) about the storm drains,” said Cayetano. “They don’t want to talk about that, they want to talk about rail.”
Cayetano estimates the city faces $11.4 to $12.4 billion in infrastructure upgrades over the coming years. He pointed to $5 billion to upgrade the Honolulu’s sewer system, $4 to $5 billion to refurbish the water system, $1.6 billion to repave roads, and another $800 million to fix storm drains.
“I believe that projects built by our city or state should be designed so they are consistent with our core values – our relationship to our environment, to each other and to the culture that binds us together as people. The $5.3 billion rail project doesn’t cut it,” said the former governor.
Caldwell told reporters the former governor is frustrated over the pace of the lawsuit against rail transit and that’s why Cayetano decided to run.
“It’s not moving fast enough…so he’s going to take it to another level by running. It is about one issue; to him it is about rail.”
Carlisle’s campaign manager, Cha Thompson, also shot back at Cayetano in a written statement.
“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,” said Thompson. “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.”
CALDWELL SOUGHT OUT CAYETANO
Cayetano said Caldwell sought the former governor’s endorsement for mayor about eight months ago, but decided against it because of Caldwell’s support for rail transit. Cayetano said the two met face-to-face at the Zippy’s Restaurant in Kahala.
“When I figured out where he was going, then I decided I wasn’t going to support him,” said Cayetano.
“He said I was much more transparent and he said I would like to support you next time you run,” Caldwell told Khon2. “I thought I was going to get his support.”
Cayetano is a longtime friend of Gov. Neil Abercrombie and he touted that relationship during Thursday’s press conference, saying the two could work together to merge similar services performed by both the city and state.
“If I’m elected, with Gov. Abercrombie there, it is the best chance for this city and state to work together to get rid of some of these duplicated services,” said Cayetano.
Abercrombie and Cayetano also share Walter Heen as a common link. Heen, a former appellate judge, OHA trustee and politician, served as co-chair for Abercrombie’s gubernatorial campaign and will fill the same role for Cayetano.
Heen sounded confidant when speaking about Cayetano’s chances to be elected mayor. “You know what I think,” he said, “we just knocked Peter Carlisle out of the race.”
Under the city charter, if a mayoral candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the August primary, he or she is declared the outright winner. If not, the top two candidates move on to the general election in November.
Carlisle became mayor during a special election in September of 2010 to fill the remainder of former Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s term, who resigned to run for governor.
Carlisle won the eight way race with 38.8 percent of the vote compared to 34.6 percent for Caldwell. Anti-rail candidate Panos Prevedouros came in third, having been supported by 18.5 percent of those who voted.
Cayetano has won all eight of his previous political campaigns, having served as a state representative, state senator and lieutenant governor.”