Former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, in one of his sharpest critiques of his opponent in the Democratic primary for governor, described former Mayor Mufi Hannemann last night as a candidate of the status quo.
"There is a crystal-clear choice to be made," Abercrombie said at a candidate forum sponsored by the Waikiki Neighborhood Board at the Sheraton-Waikiki Hotel. "We can have everything just exactly the way it was and take credit for things the way they’ve been and have our faces fixed firmly into the past, or we can seize the future and have a vision of the future.
"It is a crystal-clear choice between the status quo and change for Hawaii’s future."
Hannemann described himself as a solutions-oriented leader with the chief executive experience to collaborate with neighbor island mayors, the state Legislature and the state’s congressional delegation and bring an end to the divisiveness that marked eight years under Republican Gov. Linda Lingle. He also poked fun at Abercrombie’s penchant for fiery rhetoric.
"You can’t be in Washington, D.C., for 20 years and say that you now have the requisite experience for this job," Hannemann said. "It’s extensive executive experience. It’s a collaborative leadership style. And you cannot lead by yelling, screaming, ranting, raving, finger-pointing and name-calling when you don’t have your way."
Abercrombie and Hannemann shared the stage in Waikiki with several lesser-known candidates for governor and were asked four questions each selected by the neighborhood board. The questions — on tourism promotion in Asia, airport beautification, unemployment and the homeless in Waikiki — did not elicit any significant new public-policy proposals from the two leading candidates.
Both campaigns also seeded the audience with legions of their own supporters, so they were largely preaching to the faithful. But the forum, hosted by Olena Heu of KHON, did attempt to draw the candidates into the kind of regionally focused, retail politics that often does not get broad public and news media scrutiny.
Abercrombie, for example, turned specific questions on tourism promotion in Asia and improving the experience for visitors at Honolulu Airport into appeals to invest in local workers by providing a living wage.
He cracked that the only people who appear to arrive at the airport are real-estate speculators, while local young people are forced to leave the islands for economic opportunity on the mainland.
He said that as governor he would be committed to developing food and energy security initiatives that could create jobs and make the islands more sustainable.
Hannemann used the questions to stress his chief executive experience and collaborative approach as mayor, saying his experience prepares him to build relationships with Asia. He said he supports continuing an airport modernization plan started by the Lingle administration.
He described the route many visitors take from the airport to Waikiki along Nimitz Highway as "shameful" and said a rail station at the airport as part of the city’s rail transit project would be an improvement.