Feb 8, 2012

Former Hawaii Governor Cayetano running for Honolulu Mayor

[Benjamin J. Cayetano

By Emmanuel Samonte Tipon 

HONOLULU – Former Hawaii Governor Benjamin J. Cayetano, whose father Bonifacio Marcos Cayetano came from Pangasinan, announced on Thursday, January 19, that he is running for mayor of Honolulu, Hawaii’s beautiful and bustling capital city of 800,000 souls. He will oppose incumbent Peter Carlisle, who is serving the remaining 2 years of the term of former Mayor Mufi Hannemann who resigned to run for governor and lost, and Kirk Caldwell, a former city administrator and a Hannemann ally, who had lost to Carlisle in the special election to fill Hannemann’s seat.

Why would a 72 year old man who has attained the highest position in the state seek a lesser one like Honolulu mayor?  I once asked the same question of my uncle, former Ilocos Norte Governor Damaso Samonte when he was running for mayor of Laoag.  His answer: “To serve the people. The city has many problems for which I have some solutions.”  Cayetano has the same thoughts.

Cayetano, a lawyer, has been in elective office for some 28 years until 2002, eight of which was as governor. He has never lost an election. He has been in eight. He is an indefatigable campaigner and a proven vote-getter. He is a Democrat. Carlisle is a former city prosecutor. He is a former Republican. Caldwell is also a lawyer and a former state legislator. He is a Democrat. The election is supposedly nonpartisan.

Cayetano and this writer contributed significantly and campaigned for Carlisle in the last election in the belief that he would have an open mind on the rail system. Once he took the oath as mayor, Carlisle became even more pro rail than Hannemann.

The first time I saw Cayetano in person was at an Obama fund raiser at the Kahala Hotel (Honolulu’s 4-star equivalent of 5-star Manila Hotel). He was seated on a sofa with his wife and I was seated on another sofa with my wife. Between us was a coffee table. He was eyeing me and I was eyeing him too. Not a word was spoken. My wife whispered “Why don’t you greet him.” I whispered back, “The big man must always be the one to greet the small man.”  I saw him again at the studio of KNDI radio station when I interviewed him while he was campaigning for Ann Kobayashi for mayor. He was very nice and warm and said a few words in Ilocano. I told him of the incident at the Kahala and that I had thought he was snobbish especially with his mustache. He laughed.

Cayetano wrote his memoir simply called “Ben” which became a best-seller  describing his journey as a street kid from Honolulu’s Kalihi district (a blend of Manila’s Tondo and Sampaloc districts) to governor and Washington Place (Hawaii’s Malacanang Palace). Governor Abercrombie wrote the “Foreword”. He praises the “core attributes” of Cayetano – “honest, tough, and smart” and recalls their 30-year friendship, “both personal and political.”

“I don’t need the job, but I will run hard,” declared Cayetano to the cheers of an enthusiastic multi-racial crowd of admirers, friends, and the press who were assembled at a large meeting room adjacent to the roof garden of a Harley Davidson motorcycle dealership. Whether he will ride a motorcycle on his political sorties remains to be seen. “I have not ridden on one,” he confided to us.

Cayetano said that he will make a good mayor because he will be concentrating on the job instead of using the position as a springboard to the governorship like the other former mayors, since he has already been a governor. He emphasized his long friendship with Gov. Neil Abercrombie in the state legislature and expressed confidence that they would work well together because he is not aspiring for his seat. Abercrombie, however, declined to openly endorse Cayetano for the nonce, but many Abercrombie supporters were at the press conference. Abercrombie openly endorsed Cayetano when the latter ran for Governor in 1994 and Cayetano did likewise when Abercrombie ran for Governor in 2010.

The biggest issue in the Honolulu mayoral race is building a railroad with an estimated cost of $ 5.2 billion. All former mayors were for a rail system. Cayetano is firmly opposed to it because he believes that it will not solve the traffic problems in Oahu (it is extremely difficult to get people divorced from their cars), it is too expensive and will bankrupt the city, and the city will be forced to raise taxes to finance it because its cost has been understated and it will not be self-supporting. He said that he will work with others to look for a solution to the traffic situation and achieve the same result as rail at less cost, including increasing the number of buses and establishing dedicated express bus lanes. He indicated that such a system will not cost more than $1 billion. 
Cayetano has spearheaded a lawsuit in federal court to stop the construction of the railroad for noncompliance with certain environmental and other requirements. If we have to build a railroad, “we have to do it right,” he said. We asked what he thought about a double decked freeway similar to one in the Philippines (from Quirino Avenue going south to Sucat Road). He answered that he has not considered it.

“What’s going to happen to all the money spent on the rail?” asked a member of the press corps. He accused the people who spent it of being “irresponsible” because there were unresolved legal and environmental issues and yet they went ahead and continued spending money. He said that these people have “no accountability”.

Asked whether he was a single issue candidate, he shot back that his opponents were the ones who were single issue candidates – “they talk nothing but rail.” He indicated that he wants to fix the century old sewer system and storm drains which have burst on various occasions, to repave the roads which develop potholes every time it rains, improve the parks and attend to other public works projects, and provide for greater public safety.

In the final analysis, rail will be the principal issue. Polls indicate that the people are about evenly divided with the anti-rail voice growing louder. If voting is based solely on the rail, Cayetano will win because the pro-rail vote will be split between Carlisle and Caldwell, while he will be the only anti-rail candidate. Panos Prevedorous, an engineer, who is the original anti-rail guy and ran for mayor twice but lost, announced that he will not run this time and has endorsed Cayetano. In terms of money, Cayetano will be the underdog as tons of money have been poured or will be poured on his opponents by certain banks, railroad contractors, unions, and property owners along the proposed railroad line. 
However, money is not the deciding factor in an election. Witness the latest California election where two well-heeled women lost their heels in the race for Governor and the U.S. Senate.

If voting will be along racial lines, Cayetano has a formidable advantage over the two Caucasians who will divide the white vote which is about 50% of the total vote. Cayetano can expect about 99% of the Filipino vote (oh yes, there will be at least 1% contra partido), majority of the Chinese vote (his lovely and wealthy wife Vicky is of Chinese ancestry although she was born in the Philippines), and much of the Japanese, Korean, and native Hawaiian vote.

The primary election will be on August 11 and the candidate who wins 50 percent plus one vote wins outright. If no one wins outright, the two top vote getters will advance to the general election in November. Under that scenario, Cayetano would be one of the two.

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