Mayoral hopeful Ben Cayetano got a warm welcome from University of Hawaii professors sympathetic to his objections to the Honolulu rail project, but rail alone might not be enough to score this union endorsement.

“I think that was very well received and accepted in terms of that particular issue,” University of Hawaii Professional Assembly Executive Director JN Musto told Civil Beat about Cayetano’s Saturday appeal to the professors’ union for support. “He believes he’s on a mission. Even if we agree with the mission, that does not necessarily mean we agree with the assertion that he should be the mayor. That’s different, and it’s one we haven’t discussed. We’ll see.”

Musto said the UHPA board of directors will discuss the possibility of wading into the mayoral race at its next meeting, scheduled for this coming Saturday. He said county politics is “not something we’ve normally done.”

Cayetano, who famously battled with professors when he was governor, said they seemed “open and even receptive to my thoughts” at the closed-door forum, using words like “professional” and “very cordial” to describe his hosts.

“Basically, the point that I was making was how I thought that the rail project and all of this other debt would actually hurt public workers, in terms of their collective bargaining interests,” he said.

Musto characterized Cayetano’s remarks as a “stump speech” and said they included concerns about the impacts of steel-on-steel rail and the process that led the city to this point. Musto said Cayetano talked about the powerful interests operating behind the scenes to push the project forward, though he declined to “name names.”

“The things that Ben said with regards to rail I think resonated with the majority of people in the room,” Musto said. He said about 90 of the union’s 120 faculty representatives were present for the forum, which also included remarks from UH President MRC Greenwood, lobbyist John Radcliffe and political analyst Dan Boylan.

“He didn’t really argue why UHPA should take on the role of endorsing in a mayoral race when we traditionally don’t because we are statewide, other than to imply that the state issues will be impacted because rail will suck up every piece of energy,” Musto said. “I don’t think anybody said it’s unreasonable. … But whether that is sufficient to move us in a political way to go over…”

Cayetano downplayed the likelihood of an endorsement from the union, pointing out that most unions “tend to be very political, they tend to go where power is … they tend to operate in a monolithic style.”

“They have not made up their minds, but I think that even if they don’t endorse me … I think they got the message and I think they understand the problem,” he said. “This room was filled with the most highly educated people in the state, and I think that they could understand what I was talking about.”

That conciliatory tone comes as Cayetano returns to office a decade after retiring as Hawaii’s governor with lots of animosity between him and the professors. We explored that relationship in our previous story: Back Into The Lion’s Den, Cayetano Asking for Professors’ Support

Musto, who was there when then-Gov. Cayetano went to speak to professors and had items thrown at him, said there’s some truth to the idea that the union owes Cayetano a debt of gratitude for bringing what had been a loosely affiliated group together against a common enemy. That history might still play a factor in whether Cayetano secures the union’s support despite their acceptance of his objections to rail.

“The past cannot be ignored, I suspect,” Musto said. “Forgive and forget? I don’t know of a politician that forgives and forgets.”

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