Getting Raucous At Mayoral Debate

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - September 17, 2008

The Hawaii Theatre may be the loveliest place in the state to hold anything - dance recital, concert, you name it. But last week it was the site of the only prime-time, televised debate between the principal candidates in Honolulu’s 2008 mayoral contest.

Incumbent Mayor Mufi Hannemann arrived with half of Honolulu Hale. They wore Hannemann red T-shirts and aloha garb, and they made a lot of noise. Their “Mufi! Mufi! Mufi” routinely drowned out criticism from other parts of the audience.

Of which there were two: the partisans of anti-rail engineer and University of Hawaii professor Panos Prevedouros and those of anti-rail Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi. And they made a lot of noise as well, with chants of “Panos! Panos! Panos,” “Stop rail now!” and boos for Hannemann on any number of issues.

The debate, or forum - or whatever you wish to call it - was more than loud. It was downright raucous. So much so that at times neither questioner nor the audience in the hall could hear the candidates’ answers.

And if they did, they might still leave the hall at debate’s end - were they the scattering of non-committed folks who found their way to the Hawaii Theatre - still scratching their heads, for they had witnessed three intelligent, good-hearted people offer three significantly different answers to two-thirds of Oahu’s most pressing daily issue: traffic.

Hannemann - backed by 30 years of city studies, legislative taxing authority and poll numbers - defended his administration’s proposed 20-mile steel rail transit system that would connect the second city of Kapolei with downtown.

Kobayashi, a veteran both state and county office, argued for a system that “fits our pockets and fits our city.” In her telling, that would be “rubber on concrete” or anything else that would be cheaper than the $3.7 billion solution the mayor favored.

Prevedouros, the university engineer, said that “hot lanes” and good engineering would relieve the congestion more effectively and that it was “more important to fix sewers than build rail.” He also rejected Hannemann’s advertised price tag for rail. The professor insisted it would cost $6 billion.

The three couldn’t agree, but Kobayashi at least said that she was happy the issue was on the ballot in November and that she was “not an obstructionist,” that as mayor she would “rein in expenses” on the project and not do it with non-bid contracts.

Prevedouros, whose candidacy in part grew out of the stop rail movement, didn’t express much faith in the will of the people on the issue. Should the people approve steel-on-steel as an option in November, a Mayor Prevedouros twice said that he would disregard their vote. Rail, he insisted, “is a non-starter.” He would “educate the public” on other solutions to Oahu’s traffic congestion.

Hannemann, of course, played defense all night long. From the night’s opening statements, the popular, well-funded mayor faced charges from Kobayashi that he was “not fiscally responsible,” that he was guilty of “wasteful spending,” and “bullying” to get his way.

Prevedouros, the professor, accused Hannemann and Kobayashi - horror of horrors - of being “politicians” which he, of course, was not.

From wherever you sat in the lovely Hawaii Theatre, the bad blood between Kobayashi and Hannemann was clearly visible. It ran its deepest shade of red late in the evening when Hannemann chastised Kobayashi for “bringing dishonor on my family” with her charges that he was a bully. He insisted that his parents had brought him up to be “fair to everyone.”

Kobayashi replied, “I say bully because that is what I hear wherever I go.”

Stylistically, Prevedouros came off best. He proved congenial and skilled in the professorial arts of making his points clearly and succinctly.

And he appeared to be having fun.

Hannemann seemed in control and confident, but weary of blocking shots from both sides of the basket.

Kobayashi’s performance was, perhaps, the least noteworthy. Negativity weighed her down.

They all meet on this coming Saturday in a debate that counts: primary election day 2008.

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