Nobody can turn trash into political trash talk faster than Honolulu’s elected officials.
Among Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s news conferences last week to wrap up loose ends before resigning to run for governor was a session with reporters to dress down Hawaiian Waste Systems for failing to get tons of garbage that have piled up in Campbell Industrial Park for months shipped to Washington state.
A major subplot was shifting the political blame for the mess to the City Council—specifically, to Chairman Todd Apo.
"Let me be clear," Hannemann said, "Council Chair Todd Apo, it was always his idea to force this upon the city and in the interest of collaboration because this was his hot-button issue we tried to make it work."
He went on, "We tried to make Apo’s idea work because there seemed to be a way to do it, but when you have a problem with a group like Hawaiian Waste Systems that doesn’t live up to what they said they are going to do, it makes it very problematic."
It seemed a gratuitous shot at Apo, who has worked in relative harmony with Hannemann in ending the rancorous relationship between the mayor and Council that existed during the chairmanship of Donovan Dela Cruz. Apo has helped the administration move forward on contentious issues from rail transit to difficult budget choices.
There’s no question that Apo was a major force behind the trash shipments. His constituents in the district—including his employer, Ko Olina Resort—want the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill closed, and Apo ran for the Council on a promise to look for alternatives.
Hannemann’s statement confuses the lines of responsibility between the mayor and City Council. It’s the Council’s job to set policy and the administration’s job to effectively carry it out—and it very much remains to be seen if trash shipments were a bad idea or a decent idea that didn’t get a fair chance because of poor execution.
There was a lot of truth in the second part of Hannemann’s statement about Hawaiian Waste Systems failing to live up to its obligations.
Most of the blame here probably doesn’t lie with either the mayor or the Council, but with a dishonorable vendor that broke promise after promise and never gave trash shipments an honest test.
Hannemann’s artless finger-pointing plays into a major campaign theme of his Democratic opponent Neil Abercrombie that Hannemann is more about casting blame on others than accepting responsibility for himself.
And it works against Hannemann’s own campaign theme that he’s a team player who can bring people together; a team player shares the lumps as well as the laurels with his teammates.