DOWNTOWN HONOLULU (KHNL) - One of Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann's most vocal opponents decides to become his political opponent.
University of Hawaii civil engineering professor Panos Prevedouros has fought against rail on Oahu for more than a decade. Now, he's fighting to keep Hannemann from winning a second term.
"It is my intent to run for mayor for the City and County of Honolulu," said Prevedouros Tuesday morning in front of Honolulu Hale, surrounded by cheering supporters.
"So Panos wants to run, that's fine," said Hannemann, later that morning.
Prevedouros' entry could definitely shake up the mayor's race. Right now, there are six contenders, but none are considered strong enough to challenge Hannemann. That could change if Prevedouros follows through and enters the mayor's race.
The latest candidate for Honolulu mayor made his announcement in front of vocal supporters, and in front of, what he hopes, will be his future office.
University of Hawaii engineering professor Panos Prevedouros is a long-time opponent of rail. He says the newspaper ads Mayor Mufi Hannemann recently took out, criticizing the "anti-rail" movement, pushed him into the race.
"The ads really upset me because we shouldn't drag politics to this level," said Prevedouros, who is also the president of Hawaii Highway Users Alliance. "On the other hand, I truly believe I can do something about this city. I've been around for 18 years."
"Whether I did the ad or not, it doesn't matter," said Hannemann. "He's trying to make it like the ad, all of a sudden, is creating this hysteria in our community. That ad is very factual; it sticks to the truth, and the truth hurts and they don't like the truth."
Prevedouros says the biggest problems in Honolulu revolve around infrastructure, a topic, he says, is within his area of expertise.
"And the most appropriate person to address this infrastructure problem is an engineer, and preferably a civil engineer," he said.
Hannemann has said the anti-rail movement is largely backed by Prevedouros and business owners Cliff Slater, former CEO of Maui Divers, a local jewelry company, and Dale Evans, president of Charley's Taxi.
"There is, as of yesterday, over 37,000 collected signatures," said Prevedouros. "So it shows that it's 36,997 people more than Cliff, Dale and myself."
"We didn't have a persuasion problem on the rail issue; we had a logistics problem," said Slater. "We had a problem of collecting the signatures of all the people who wanted to vote against rail."
But Hannemann says his rail plan has the more widespread support.
"The majority of the legislature, the majority of the city council, and even one presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama, supports this," said the Honolulu mayor.
Hannemann believes the anti-rail movement is backed by right-wing mainland donors.
"It's really absurd," said Slater. "We don't get any money from oil companies ... (Hannemann) has a lot of money, huge amount of money and for him to be questioning the meager amount we've been using versus the millions of dollars he's been collecting from city contractors, that takes nerve."
"I have not received a single dollar from a single car dealer and there are politicians that tell me, I literally sell cars," said Prevedouros.
Hannemann has received criticisms of his own. Some members of "Stop Rail Now" say the mayor favors mainland contractors who stand to benefit from multi-million dollar rail contracts.
Hannemann says that's not so.
"Leland, we had a contractors' symposium," he said. "We invited mainland companies; we invited local companies. I've said, we want you to join the team because there are skills and expertise that lack at the local level."
Slater said Hannemann's rail proposal is part of bigger plan to build up neighborhoods along the rail route. Hannemann doesn't necessarily disagree.
"That's all part of transit oriented development," said Hannemann. "But the way it's tempered, Leland, is the way we're doing with Waipahu: community based planning."
Hannemann welcomes the challenge, but issues a cautionary warning.
"Now, remember when you run, you have a record, too," he said. "Panos can't just say, 'I'm this transportation expert' because many people don't see him as a transportation expert. He's also got to stand on his past and his present."