Former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie and Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, auditioning yesterday for an important endorsement, gave the Hawaii Carpenters Union a choice between a consistent fighter for labor and a chief executive who has bridged the gap between management and workers.
Abercrombie offered carpenters gathered at their biennial convention at the Sheraton Waikiki a scorching reminder of his loyalty to labor, from his days as a University of Hawaii-Manoa lecturer to his two decades in Congress. He said he is the only candidate for governor who has reliably stood with labor, and portrayed Hannemann as an opportunist more attuned to management.
"Anybody can come down here and tell you that they want your vote and that they take up your cause," Abercrombie thundered. "The only person that’s running for governor today is standing in front of you, who’s been with you, who’s been out there and organized a labor union, negotiated for a labor union, and (has) always been on the side of labor when it came to management. The other guys have always been on the side of management.
"That’s the situation that you’re facing."
Hannemann said he has the leadership and collaboration skills for the job and suggested that Abercrombie’s experience in Congress would not translate to Washington Place.
"This is not a congressional job," Hannemann said. "You are not one of 435 where you vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and you can hide behind 434 other members when you don’t want your vote to be noticed, or to be called upon.
"The buck stops at the desk of a mayor, the governor and the president of the United States. Legislative jobs are important, don’t get me wrong, but they don’t do the job what is required of an executive."
CARLISLE WINS ENDORSEMENT
The Hawaii Carpenters Union has endorsed Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle for Honolulu mayor.
Ron Taketa, the union’s financial secretary and business representative, said Carlisle is firmly committed to the city’s rail transit project.
"He is fully committed to getting it built—from start to finish—and he supports the creation of the transit authority as part of getting it done," Taketa said.
Taketa also praised Carlisle’s administrative and legal abilities.
Carlisle is running for mayor against city Managing Director Kirk Caldwell, City Councilman Donovan Dela Cruz, City Councilman Rod Tam and University of Hawaii-Manoa engineering professor Panos Prevedouros.
Chief executives, Hannemann said, must balance budgets and negotiate collective bargaining agreements. He said a chief executive needs to have credibility with business and labor interests. "He may be a labor-friendly chief executive," he said, describing himself, "but he’s a labor-friendly chief executive that business won’t run from."
The two leading Democratic candidates for governor were speaking to an audience hungry for work. The carpenters union is the largest private-sector construction union in the state, with 7,000 members, and 53 percent are unemployed. Ron Taketa, the financial secretary and business representative for the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America Local 745, said the unemployment figure for his members would be even higher statewide if not for military construction projects on Oahu.
The carpenters union is relying on a Honolulu rail transit project on Oahu, the Thirty Meter Telescope project on the Big Island and other public-works projects for new construction jobs. Taketa also welcomes federal stimulus money for construction from the Obama administration and Congress. He said it is important for government to step up with public-works projects during times when private investment in construction drops off.
"We need all of it," Taketa said. "We just have too many unemployed members and the economy really needs to get stimulated at this point."
The speeches yesterday could have an influence on which Democrat the carpenters union will endorse.
"Leadership. Effectiveness. The ability to pull people together. Ideas on economic recovery," Taketa said of the skills that carpenters are looking for in a governor. "I think all of these things are important. And, certainly, support for the rail transit project."
Both Abercrombie and Hannemann fully support rail. Abercrombie has been critical of Hannemann for leaving as mayor before the city breaks ground on the project. But Hannemann said he has put the project in a position to advance and could complete the job as governor. Hannemann is expected to resign by the candidate filing deadline on Tuesday, with two years left in his four-year term, to campaign for governor.
"I’m making sure that no future mayor, no future city council, can reverse the course that we are embarking upon," Hannemann said of rail. "But one of the reasons why I need to run for governor, (is) I have to make sure that this is done correctly, that this is done right."
Abercrombie told carpenters that he is the candidate who has already delivered jobs. He said he "put bread on your table, year after year after year," through project labor agreements for military housing projects.
"When Abercrombie was in charge, everybody worked, and when everybody worked, everybody bought, and when everybody bought, everybody prospered in Hawaii," he said. "And when I’m governor, I can tell you, everybody’s going to work again and everybody prospers again."
Despite Abercrombie’s labor bona fides, Hannemann has won significant labor endorsements—including from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the United Public Workers—to go along with his support from many top business executives. The labor endorsements help reinforce Hannemann’s contention that he is comfortable in both business and labor circles and would make a more well-rounded chief executive.
Hannemann told carpenters they deserve a candidate they can relate to, who shares their values, and who identifies with working-class families. The mayor, who is of Samoan and German ancestry and grew up in Kalihi, did not mention Abercrombie’s background, but his remarks drew a contrast with the white, Buffalo, N.Y.-born former congressman.
"I can identify with you," Hannemann said. "When I look in the audience, I look like you, you look like me. Is that a right thing to say? And even for our Caucasian brothers in the audience, I’m local to the max. My last name is Hannemann. That’s German. My middle name is Francis. English. So I’m Samoan-German-English, born and raised in Hawaii, and married to a katonk, a Japanese-American woman.
"So I’ve got it all in my household, baby, I can relate to each and every one of you."
Hannemann also asked carpenters to look beyond the September primary and consider which candidate would be better in the November general election, where the Democrats will likely face Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, the leading Republican candidate. He said Republicans have been directing most of their attacks at him and he believes it is because they would rather have Abercrombie as the Democratic nominee.
"The Republican Party want(s) no part of my game," he said. "They don’t want to run against me. They want to run against the other guy. They contrast better against him. They don’t contrast as well against me."
Jonah Kaauwai, the state GOP chairman, said Republicans are not afraid of Hannemann. "We just want Mufi to tell the truth," he said. "He’s trying to be somebody that he’s not. He’s just being his typical politician self.
"Neil has stood where he’s stood and Mufi has continued to take the middle line, tying to be everything to everyone, but ending up being nothing to no one."