Cayetano, Caldwell lay out closing arguments on eve of election

By Andrew Pereira
Published On: Nov 07 2012 08:01:35 AM HST
Updated On: Nov 06 2012 07:35:27 AM HST

The long-running battle to be Honolulu's next Mayor will soon be settled 24 hours from now when the polls close in the General Election.

HONOLULU -

The contrast between Kirk Caldwell and Ben Cayetano on the eve of Honolulu's mayoral election is as stark as their differences on rail.

Caldwell, 60, a strong supporter of the city's $5.3 billion rail project, spent the Monday before Election Day on a trolley, crisscrossing urban Honolulu.

The former managing director and acting mayor began his day of sign-waving in Kalihi by the Kamehameha Shopping Center.  Caldwell then traveled to downtown Honolulu, had lunch at the Costco in Iwilei, and ended up back at his Nimitz Highway headquarters by 4 p.m.

"I think when you run for office, the job is to get out before as many people as you can (and) let them get to know us up close and personal," Caldwell told KITV4. "It's not just you expect to get elected, you got to go out and earn their vote."

Cayetano, on the other hand, was much more low-key. The former two-term Democratic governor and anti-rail candidate met with individual reporters at the State Capitol Monday without the fanfare of sign-wavers nearby. Despite his casual approach less than 24 hours before polls open, Cayetano, 72, said his supporters are extremely excited.

"This is my ninth election, and it is one where I think the supporters are most enthusiastic of all," said Cayetano. "To everyone, I would say this election is very, very important."

Although much has been said about so-called "October surprises" in the waning days of political campaigns, the race for Honolulu mayor got an unexpected November eye-opener when federal Judge A. Wallace Tashima issued his ruling on the controversial rail project Thursday. 

In his ruling, Tashima said for the most part, the city had followed federal environmental guidelines by studying the impacts of rail on native Hawaiian burials. He also said the city had properly studied alternatives to steel on steel technology, like bus rapid transit and an express toll way.  The lawsuit was filed by Cayetano and other rail opponents in May 2011.

Caldwell, an attorney at the Honolulu law firm of Ashford and Wriston, took the judge's decision as a victory for rail supporters.

"If I came back and told my client that I got rid of tons of claims and just have three left, they'd consider that a victory," said Caldwell, who in the recent past has served as the city's managing director and acting mayor.

However, Tashima also ruled the city did a poor job in identifying culturally sensitive properties along the proposed rail line.  He said the city must mitigate impacts to historic Mother Waldron Park in Kakaako, and study the feasibility of placing a portion of the rail project underground along Beretania Street.

Cayetano believes the ruling shows rail has been poorly managed and should be stopped before it becomes a boondoggle for taxpayers, part of his closing argument to voters.

"What's at stake here is what kind of city you want to leave to future generations," said Cayetano.  "We're going to fix the infrastructure, the sewers and the water. That's going to be a high priority on my list."

Cayetano has been pitching his $1.5 billion alternative to rail, which he calls FAST, short for "Flexible Affordable Smart Transportation."  The plan utilizes a BRT system serving Central and Leeward Oahu, a Nimitz Highway flyover and three short underpasses along Kapiolani Boulevard.

Cayetano said Tuesday's election could also determine whether mainland style negative campaigning takes root in Hawaii.

Last month, Cayetano filed a libel lawsuit against Pacific Resource Partnership after the trade group accused him of profiting from illegal campaign contributions during his time as governor. 

PRP is a strong rail advocate, and has spent more than $2.8 million in an effort to influence the mayor's race. The group is supported by the Hawaii Carpenters Union and more than 200 signatory contractors.

Caldwell's final message to voters rests on the practicality of making Honolulu a better city for residents and visitors alike.

"I want to really set the city on a new course with new infrastructure," he said. "You know, rebuilding our sewer and our water for bigger capacity, and of course, rail to move people in a narrow urban corridor."

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