POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Aug 14, 2010
LAST UPDATED: 12:12 a.m. HST, Aug 23, 2010
The Democratic primary for governor went from simmer to boil yesterday as former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie savaged former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann's handling of rail and the homeless and Hannemann asked how Abercrombie can credibly portray himself as an agent of change after four decades in politics.
At a luncheon forum at Ihilani Resort and Spa, the candidates had their most incisive exchanges so far in the campaign.
Hannemann said Abercrombie's contention that the city's $5.5 billion rail transit project is stalled is "a patently absurd and false statement." The former mayor said the environmental impact statement for the project is on Gov. Linda Lingle's desk awaiting approval.
He said Abercrombie was an "indefatigable champion" for rail while he was in Congress but is making the project political now that he is running for governor.
Hannemann's comments set off Abercrombie, who suggested Hannemann was improperly pressuring the governor to sign an environmental review that might not be strong enough to withstand a legal challenge. He also sought to undermine Hannemann's description of himself as a collaborator.
"You can't go to the governor and call her ignorant. You can't try and bully the governor or threaten the governor on the EIS so that she ends up getting 'Superferried' twice," Abercrombie said.
"That's not going to work and that's certainly not collaboration."
Abercrombie criticized Hannemann for using overly optimistic ridership projections in the environmental review, for not extending rail to Waikiki and the University of Hawaii-Manoa, for not plotting transit-oriented development in advance to avoid real estate speculation, and for not moving quickly enough on a transit authority to oversee the project.
Abercrombie said it is Hannemann who has turned the project political. "Rail is not even being managed now. There is nobody in charge of rail right now," he said. "We don't know what the next Council is going to be like. We don't know what the next mayor's going to do.
"Rail is stalled because rail was abandoned by my opponent."
Hannemann told the audience that the exchange on rail showed the differences in leadership style between the two men. "My opponent, it's all about I, I, I. It's all about when he doesn't get his way, then something's wrong. OK? Mine is all about 'we' and 'us.'"
But Abercrombie persisted with his critique, describing Hannemann not as a collaborator, but as an aggressor who shifts blame when policies go off track and retaliates against people who disagree with him.
Hannemann said he is a collaborator who has never had one of his vetoes overridden by the City Council. He said he worked together with other mayors this year to prevent the state Legislature from scooping hotel room tax revenue from the counties to help with the state's budget deficit. He said he would treat mayors as equals if elected governor.
Asked by moderator Howard Dashefsky about the homeless, Hannemann said the city has made sure that beach parks along the Waianae Coast are open and accessible to everyone. "Just imagine what it looked like four years ago, five years ago, and what it looks like today," Hannemann said.
He said the city pursued a public-private partnership to develop a Chinatown property to help homeless people but encountered "NIMBY-ism" from residents and merchants. He said it is "patently unfair" to locate all the homeless-assistance projects in West Oahu.
He said he would have more resources to address the homeless problem at state departments that deal with housing and social services.
"By going to the state, I now can enact things that (the Lingle) administration didn't do," Hannemann said. "To collaborate, again, so that we can move the needle forward, not just on Oahu, but Kauai, the Big Island and Maui that are all experiencing this. And having a governor who can work closely with the county mayors is going to be a remarkable -- remarkable -- progress in this area because we're beyond denial. We know we have to do something about it."
Abercrombie said Hannemann's comments on the homeless show why people want change. The former mayor "just shoved people out of parks," he said. "That was his solution. And they're all back again.
"Anybody want to go out on the beaches right now when we leave here and see whether or not what I'm saying is accurate?"
Abercrombie said Chinatown residents do not want the homeless-assistance project the city proposed. He said Chinatown and downtown should be redeveloped with work-force housing that complements rail. "It's not supposed to be a dumping ground, to take our difficulties from one area to another," he said. "This is where you see, very clearly, why people don't want the same kind of solutions."
Abercrombie's assessment of Hannemann and his record was sharper yesterday than at any of their previous joint appearances. The forum, sponsored by the West Oahu Economic Development Association and the Kapolei Chamber of Commerce, aired live on KHNR radio, but the former congressman has called for more televised debates so he can spar with Hannemann before a larger audience and offset Hannemann's campaign advertising advantage.
Hannemann, who has raised more campaign money than Abercrombie, has the financial ability to reach out to voters through an upcoming ad blitz that one adviser has dubbed "shock and awe."
Hannemann refused to be drawn into a brawl yesterday. His tone remained calm and measured even as Abercrombie, who was sitting just a few feet away on stage, blasted him. He continued to drive home his theme that Abercrombie's Washington, D.C., experience will not translate to Washington Place. He also questioned how Abercrombie, who has been involved in politics for four decades -- including two decades in Congress -- is the candidate of change.
"How can you be a credible agent of change when you've been in public office since I was a sophomore in high school?" Hannemann asked.