POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Oct 26, 2012
City Councilman Tom Berg makes no apologies for his outspoken, aggressive approach to politics. "If I have to raise my voice to shed light on corruption, greed and graft, I will raise my voice," he said.
His strident political persona and some well-publicized controversies have made Berg a well-known political figure on Oahu, but that fame may also make him vulnerable to a challenge by four-term state Rep. Kymberly Marcos Pine.
Pine said residents of the Leeward Oahu Council district tell her that "we just want someone who can do the job without all the drama."
"Tom Berg has created more division in our community than any other leader in Leeward Coast history," Pine said. "It just is really sad to me because we have a lot of work to do on the Leeward Coast."
District I extends from near Kaena Point to the Ewa area and includes Ko Olina, Campbell Industrial Park, Makakilo, Kapolei, Kalaeloa and parts of Ewa Beach.
Berg won the Council seat in a 2010 special election to fill the final two years of the term of Todd Apo, who resigned to take a job with Disney's Aulani Resort. The election drew 14 candidates.
Berg, a former state legislative aide and former tea party activist, won with 2,326 votes, or just 18.5 percent of the 12,559 votes cast in the 2010 race.
Since then Berg has become a leading Council opponent of the city's $5.26 billion rail project, which he describes as a "con job."
He says rail will cost taxpayers far more than the city predicts, and speaks out against what he believes are deceptive strategies by rail supporters to sell the project to the public "in bad faith."
For example, Berg mocks the city's claim that Honolulu can afford to pay for the rail project without cutting other city services.
"If you can't afford fuel to run buses, and you're cutting bus service because you can't afford $3 million in higher diesel costs, what are you going to do when electricity skyrockets and continues to climb?" Berg asked. "Every twist and turn that's revealed about the rail project, everything that has been revealed about the rail project, it turns out we've been misinformed."
Berg, 48, says he has demonstrated he can work cooperatively with his Council colleagues and points to 19 resolutions he authored that passed unanimously.
Still, Berg is better known for controversy. Explaining his no-holds-barred approach to debate, Berg says in an online video, "If I have to sacrifice my reputation or character to save the taxpayer money, it's no loss to me."
Police have been called to two public meetings when participants felt discussions involving Berg were getting too heated, and he was also involved in an argument with Secret Service agents outside a Waikiki hotel that was videotaped and put online.
In the Waikiki incident, Berg was trying to gain re-entry to an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation reception on Nov. 12 to recover a cellphone, but officials would not let him pass because he did not have proper credentials. Berg accused staff at the checkpoint of lying, and demanded that one of the security workers be fired.
Berg acknowledged he was drinking that evening but denied being drunk. Police said he was intoxicated.
Berg also faces a complaint before the Campaign Spending Commission by his former chief of staff Eric Ryan, who alleges Berg had Council staff work on taxpayer time in 2011 to help his re-election campaign.
Campaign Spending Commission staff recommended Berg be required to reimburse the city for $28,646 for in-kind contributions by Council staffers, but the commission deferred action on the case. It will reconsider the matter Thursday.
Berg said he fired Ryan, and described Ryan as a disgruntled employee who fabricated and filed the complaint to try to affect the outcome of the election.
Berg is a former legislative office manager for Pine, and she supported him in the past. But Pine now says Berg undermined the ability of Leeward residents to work together for common goals because Berg and his supporters attack anyone who disagrees with them.
Residents of the district "are tired of the yelling and the screaming, and they just want results. I've produced tremendous results for my community," Pine said.
Pine, 41, describes herself as a fiscal conservative and is former director of the House Republican Research office. She said her time in that research job gave her an important background in government budgeting.
Pine has served in the House since 2004, and said she ran for office because she felt government was neglecting the needs of Ewa Beach, including funding for schools and roads.
She said she had a part in delivering more than $600 million in improvements for the community, including the North-South Road or Kualakai Parkway, the new Kapolei Middle School, a new building for Campbell High School and the new campus for the University of Hawaii at West Oahu.
Pine acknowledges she had lots of help from other lawmakers in persuading the state to fund those projects, which she said touches on the problem with Berg.
"We've done that through teamwork with other leaders," she said of the state projects. "I had to get the support of many other legislators to get help for my community, and it deeply saddens me that Tom has made enemies of not only every member of the Council, but every state legislator on the Leeward Coast. That's not how you get things done for your community."
Pine supports the rail project, but said she is worried the endless quarrel over rail will again end without any solution for Leeward traffic tie-ups.
"My biggest concern is to make sure that something, some project moves forward no matter what," she said.
She has also joined in some tea party events, but said she later distanced herself from the group because it opposes rail.
Pine said she plans to launch a "Hire Leeward" campaign to persuade Leeward businesses to hire Leeward workers. That will improve the quality of life for Leeward residents and also take cars off the road, she said.
"Rather than arguing about what to do, we want to already start focusing on solving the problem in our own way," she said.