Butting heads over the future of Oahu's mass transit

Eric Ryan
Eric Ryan
Mayor Mufi Hannemann
Mayor Mufi Hannemann

By Leland Kim - bio | email

DOWNTOWN HONOLULU (KHNL) - War of words. Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann and an anti-rail group butt heads. A newspaper advertisement calls into question the people behind the "Stop Rail Now" movement.

And Wednesday night, it's generating a heated exchange on the issue of mass transit on Oahu.

"The ads are disgusting," said Eric Ryan, "Stop Rail Now's" volunteer campaign manager. "The mayor is a desperate man who's obviously made a lot of promises to a lot of people."

"So this thing about being a pure grassroots organization that's Hawaii driven and based is baloney,'" said Hannemann.

The mayor took out the ad, accusing mainland groups of interfering in local politics.

There's much to be gained and lost in the controversial debate over which is the best mass transit option for Oahu. Mayor Hannemann and his opponents continue to make their respective case to the voters. At stake? Billions of dollars, reputation, and the future of island transportation.

A three-quarter newspaper ad is Mayor Hannemann's latest weapon to fight, what he calls, misinformation about his plan for a light rail system. He says it's the best option for Honolulu, but the folks at "Stop Rail Now" disagree.

"This isn't about traffic relief," said Ryan. "I live deep in Ewa Beach. We want traffic relief but we don't want our money wasted on something that's not going to help."

In the ad, the mayor claims "mainland conservatives" are behind the local anti-rail movement.

"There's no reason to doubt that ultra right wing conservative groups with a Libertarian bent are influencing 'Stop Rail Now,'" said Hannemann.

"As someone who's born and raised in Hawaii, it's disgusting intimation that we're from the mainland and that we're here to try swindle local people," said Ryan.

While anti-rail advocates like University of Hawaii professor Panos Prevedouros and Charleys Taxi president Dale Evans are involved, "Stop Rail Now" says funding comes strictly from voluntary contributions.

"Dale Evans once loaned me a generator, Panos has never been here, and has never called here," said Ryan.

"So as far as monetary contributions?" asked KHNL.

"Zilch as far as I know, and I see it all," said Ryan.

Hannemann's ad mentions Jamie Story, a former Texas beauty queen, who has recently taken a job as president of the Grassroots Institute of Hawaii, an anti-rail group. The "Stop Rail Now" folks say they've never talked to her.

"Then I guess I'm not six foot seven inches either," said Hannemann. "I'm really five foot seven."

"So you don't believe that?" asked KHNL.

"I don't believe that at all," Hannemann answered.

Anti-rail people say the mayor is tied to mainland companies who have been promised multi-million dollar rail contracts, but Hannemann says he would hire locally if he could.

"We try to hire local companies to do all of our work, but at the end of the day, we need to partner firms who may have a unique expertise," he said.

"Stop Rail Now" volunteers continue to collect signatures to put this to a vote on the November ballot.

"We are going to be on the ballot," said Ryan. "I want to say clearly, there is no way we will not be on the ballot. We're aiming for the November general election. We're a hundred percent confident we'll get there."

Still the mayor remains adamant, confident he's doing the right thing for the people of Honolulu.

"I'm not going to let big time, oil money interest, chemical companies -- Texas based -- come to Honolulu and tell us what's good for us," said Hannemann. "That ain't gonna happen under my watch."

So far, "Stop Rail Now" has collected 30,000. They need 10,0000 more by August 1 to have it on the November ballot. Otherwise, they could force a special election.

Mayor Hannemann says he's not worried either way.