Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s chief opponents in the governor’s race say he should answer questions and explain his recent trip to Pittsburgh to raise campaign funds.
The June 9 fundraiser was hosted by Paul Overby, the former senior director of strategy and performance management at Bombardier Transportation, one of three firms competing for the $230 million contract to provide trains for the city’s rail transit project.
The fundraiser gained attention last week after being reported by a blogger and other media. The reports drew criticism from state Republican Party Chairman Jonah Kaauwai, who said the fundraiser raised serious ethical concerns. It came as the mayor was traveling to Washington, D.C., and Oklahoma on city business, including a meeting on the rail project.
Hannemann’s campaign said he would not accept any funds gathered at the Pittsburgh event, which featured a series of professional football players honoring Hannemann. Tickets ranged from $500 to $2,500.
"The mayor did not receive any contributions at this event, nor did he solicit any," Carolyn Tanaka, spokeswoman for the Hannemann campaign, said last week. "His personal decision to refuse any contributions associated with the event is based on his desire not to put a cloud over the work he is doing for the city and county while on the mainland."
Former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, Hannemann’s Democratic primary opponent, called the trip "a fundraising scheme."
"It was not a meet-and-greet session. It was a fundraiser organized and run by a rail transit consultant. Why would money collected be returned if it were a legitimate event as the mayor claims?" Abercrombie said in a statement yesterday.
"Why did the official city release say the mayor was meeting in D.C. when he was actually campaigning in Pittsburgh?" Abercrombie asked.
Hannemann’s campaign declined to comment, saying it was standing by Tanaka’s statement last week.
Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, who will probably face either Hannemann or Abercrombie in the general election, said he could understand taking time from a business trip to raise campaign funds, but he had questions.
"I agree with Neil," Aiona said yesterday in an interview. "Mufi has to answer some questions. The people need to know what is going on."
Hannemann’s campaign was required to file a notice with the Campaign Spending Commission in advance of the fundraiser, but commission records show that the notice was time-stamped on June 9 and stated that the fundraiser would be held on June 10.
Hannemann’s city office put out a release on June 9 saying the mayor "will meet in Washington, D.C., today" with Rep. James Oberstar, House Transportation Committee chairman, to talk about funding for Honolulu’s rail project.
The release said that on June 10 he would travel to Oklahoma City for a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.