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Welcome Back Ben Cayetano?

We sat down with former governor and current mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano to talk about rail, old guys and why your commute isn’t going to get any better, no matter who wins.


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HM: You retired in 2002.What have you been doing with yourself these past 10 years?

BC: I did all kinds of things that I didn’t have time to do when I was governor. I read a lot of memoirs. One of my favorites is The Power Broker, by Robert Caro, about Robert Moses, the guy who planned New York City, Central Park, all these different places. He became so powerful that when the mayors wanted to see him, they would come over to his office. He made New York what it is today, and the guy wasn’t elected. A fascinating story.

I wrote a book. And an excerpt was published in HONOLULU Magazine. Thank you very much. I toyed with the idea of going back to law practice, and I decided that I did not want to. I even considered the idea of opening a consulting business, although I couldn’t figure out what I would be consulting on.

HM: In your book you say you were never interested in running for Congress. You say: “Nor was I interested in city politics. I wanted to serve at the state level; public education, social services and economic development interested me more than parks, sewers and bus service.” You weren’t interested in the job then, but now you are?

BC: Sewers and parks were not the kinds of things that excited me. They excite me now because, first, I know more about it, and as I’ve matured and become older, I’ve recognized the importance of infrastructure to city growth. And, also, when I saw that rendering of what [rail] is gonna look like, the Bishop Street Station, I said I couldn’t believe it. You know, what the hell are these guys doing?

HM: You supported Peter Carlisle in the last election, and he was pro-rail. Why didn’t you just draw the line then?

BC: I knew Kirk Caldwell was going to do what Mufi Hannemann wanted to do. Push the project through. So I talked with Peter and I told him, I know you’re pro rail, but just promise me that you’ll take a look at the information on the other side. And if you see something wrong, or something that can be done right, better, then all I want you to do is consider doing it. You gonna do rail—which I don’t think you should do—then do it right.

Mufi Hannemann had been doling out personal service contracts like hot cakes—$150,000 here, $200,000 there. I know what the guy’s doing. He gave John DeSoto a $150,000 contract. John DeSoto was one of the five [Honolulu City Council members] that voted against rail. I don’t know what John DeSoto does to warrant that, but, you know. Mufi was sprinkling this stuff around. So anyway, I asked Peter, “Make some changes, man. Kick these guys out, for crying out loud.” He says, “I’ll do it.” He gets in, nothing changes. He changes the managing director. That’s all. Then he starts to drink that Kool-Aid, and all of a sudden he’s a pro-rail guy.

HM: You told Carlisle, If you’re going to do rail, do it right? What did you mean by do it right?

BC: Well first of all, try starting from inside the city rather than starting from an empty field out in Kapolei. And I wanted him to be truthful with the numbers. The numbers that have been coming out of the city are really suspect. Where does the information come from? Parsons Brinckerhoff [the city’s rail consultant], and they stand to make $400 maybe $500 million in soft fees off this project.

HM: Your alternative to rail is Bus Rapid Transit. Is your BRT plan essentially Jeremy Harris’ BRT plan dusted off?

BC: I would say that the regional part, where you can run the buses down the freeways, is good, because you’re already using an elevated structure that doesn’t have to be rebuilt. But when you come downtown, you’ve got to make some changes. If you want to run it down King Street, for example, on one side of King Street you might have to take some of the parking that’s there, take it out.

HM: Would it take away any lanes of traffic?

BC: Put it this way, you would have a dedicated lane. And in that dedicated lane you could have the bus, and maybe vans and stuff like that.

HM: So it would take a lane away? In some places, it would make traffic congestion worse?

BC: Maybe. But you know what, you gotta weigh all this stuff, right? It’s not going to run down Halekauwila Street and dig up the ground and block off the view planes. So the question is, What do you want? Do you want to block off the view planes, dig up the ancient burial sites, and all of those iwi, or do you take this lane and dedicate it during rush hour to buses?

HM: You’re saying, with rail, congestion will be just as bad in the future. Can’t you say the same thing about BRT?

BC: Yeah. The reality is this: Neither rail nor BRT is going to make things that much better. That’s being honest with people. It’s not a solution. You may mitigate the problem somewhat, but, according to the studies, the bus does it better than rail because it’s one-fifth the cost, and it actually has a higher ridership. And it’s flexible. You have a route that’s not productive, you change it.

HM: When you say that, if you’re elected mayor, you will stop rail, do you mean absolutely, unequivocally that you will stop rail, or do you mean you will be in a better position to stop rail?

BC: I’d certainly be in a better position to stop rail. The Federal Transit Administration, which would probably be very happy not to dole out $1.5 billion, provided Congress and Inouye approve it, will recognize that they don’t have a cooperating partner in this city. The FTA has said itself, publically, that it needs all the parties working together, on the same page. I think the FTA will look at this election as a mandate that people have changed their minds.

HM: What other levers would you have as mayor to stop rail?

BC: If HART [Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation] wants to issue a bond, it has to go through the city. I think the mayor has to sign off on it. Otherwise the City Council would have to override the mayor’s veto. But let me ask you this: How plausible do you think that would be, if I get elected and the people have spoken, so to speak, through the ballot box?  You think those guys are going to force it though? I don’t think anybody would have the guts to do that, frankly.

HM: What would your biggest obstacles to stopping rail be?

BC: If the City Council insists on voting it through over the mayor’s objections, and if HART continues to do what it has been doing. HART is the worst thing that’s ever happened to this city. The reason you elect people is you gotta hold them accountable by dis-electing them the next time. You can’t do anything about the people in HART. They’re not elected, yet they got all this power. And it’s supposed to be nonpolitical, which is bullshit. It’s political as hell, man. Everybody on that thing was appointed because they were for rail. That’s another reason I’m running. It pisses me off.

HM: You’ve said that, if elected, you will look into whether members of HART are guilty of malfeasance?

BC: The law usually gives people who serve on boards and commissions, from the public, a lot of protection. It allows them to make mistakes if mistakes were done with proper intentions and they relied on the information that was available to them at this time. I think HART has crossed the line. If I get elected, the first thing I tell the HART guys is, “Go get lawyers, because I’m going to have our lawyer look into whether you guys crossed the line.” And if they did, then we’ll file civil suits against them. What they’ve done, in my opinion, is outrageous.

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