Mayor-elect Peter Carlisle has consistently spoken in strong support of the city’s rail project.

When asked about the $5.5 billion transit plan in an interview at the end of the day Friday, he reiterated his stance.

“Look, we need rail,” Carlisle said. “The most important thing about rail right now is getting it going.”

But Acting Mayor Kirk Caldwell, who lost to Carlisle in the mayoral election by 4 percentage points, is expressing concerns that the mayor elect doesn’t know enough about the complex project and isn’t taking the steps to educate himself.

With the days ticking until he’s sworn in on Oct. 8, Carlisle told Civil Beat that he’s focusing first and foremost on assembling his team.

The one person he has identified as someone he wants on his side, acting Prosecutor Douglas Chin, had little to say about rail in a separate interview with Civil Beat.

“I think the voters have spoken,” said Chin, who still must be confirmed by the City Council before he takes the city’s No. 2 job of managing director. “I think the train has left the station.”

Despite their support for the project, the city’s new leadership represents a shift from the rail-centric administration led by former Mayor Mufi Hannemann and Caldwell. For much of his 18 months as the city’s managing director, Caldwell worked on advancing the Honolulu High-Capacity Transit Corridor Project. Now, with less than two weeks left as acting mayor, Caldwell is focusing on how he can hand off a project he calls “very near and dear to my heart” to a new team of city leaders.

Chin acknowledges he’s less interested in rail than his predecessor. Instead, Chin said his personal priorities — after “doing everything I can to assist Peter in his agenda” — will be related to social services.

“I’m more interested in the social services, that’s more my strength,” Chin said. “We’re trying to make cutbacks and trying to be fiscally responsible but at the same time I really feel for people because they depend on the social services.”

“I’ve offered the mayor elect access to all our cabinet members for briefings,” Caldwell said. “I would think he’d want multiple briefings on the budget, briefings on rail and on the sewage consent decree. He has not told me that he’s wanted briefings in those areas. I would think he would want multiple briefings.”

Carlisle confirmed he hasn’t met with the project’s directors, or anyone else in the city’s Department of Transportation Services.

“I have spoken with somebody who’s intimately involved in rail, but not recently,” Carlisle said. “I was given lots of information about rail from lots of different sources.”

As far as his own independent research goes, Carlisle said he’ll learn what those who are better informed tell him is essential to know and understand about the project.

“I’m not going to read (the Final Environmental Impact Statement),” Carlisle said. “Let the research division get me a briefing on it, and let me know the salient points. I don’t need to be reading that kind of stuff. I need people to tell me what to read.”

When pressed, Carlisle said he will eventually plan a meeting with city transportation leaders. He said he also plans to focus on connections at the state level. Carlisle has a close relationship with outgoing Gov. Linda Lingle, who must sign off on the EIS and has raised serious concerns about the project, commissioning a $300,000 study of its financing.

“I think I know what (Democrat gubernatorial candidate) Neil Abercrombie’s position is on it,” Carlisle said. “I need to talk to (Republican gubernatorial candidate) Duke (Ainoa). I also need to call and see if I can speak to the governor and see what her position is. I am going to call her and see whether she wants to meet.”

A spokesman for Lingle did not return phone calls before this story was published.

Caldwell said the new mayor will also have to reconsider his relationship with one of the state’s most influential political allies: U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye.

“You have to have a good relationship with Dan Inouye, and some of the comments (Carlisle has) made make it sound like he doesn’t have that relationship,” Caldwell said. “But I think he’ll be realist and realize he has to be cordial, has to have working relationship with these people.”

Caldwell said his frustration extends beyond his disappointment over having lost the election, but says it’s compounded by difficulty getting a hold of the mayor elect. Caldwell said Carlisle wasn’t returning his phone calls Thursday or Friday, and that his voicemail was full.

“These things are highly, highly complicated and very technical,” Caldwell said. “I don’t think he understands the acceptance of the FEIS. He does not understand the process, and he needs to understand it really, really clearly.”

Carlisle, at the end of the day Friday, pointed out that because he’s inheriting the project at the end of the design phase, his responsibilities will be different than the kind of work the project required of Hannemann or Caldwell.

“Actually, a lot of the groundwork has already been done,” Carlisle said. “I think the most significant thing to do is to get the shovels in the ground in the first section of construction.”

But Caldwell says it’s critical for Carlisle to understand what “additional hurdles,” remain before that can happen, particularly as the makeup of the City Council changes. Only four members of the nine-member council will remain after the November general election. The city will rely on the City Council to approve special permits related to construction along some coastal areas of the rail route.

“I don’t know if he understands that,” Caldwell said. “If we get a council in there that’s anti-rail, it’d be another way to stop the project.”

The acting mayor’s candor reveals a rare wavering of confidence about the future of rail. But Carlisle dismisses such worries, saying negative sentiment is inevitable with a project of this scale.

“Every fact that exists in the EIS, every statement, is going to be disputed by one side or the other,” Carlisle said. “On one side, they’re going to claim it’s the Bible, it’s the word from the mount, and the other side is going to say the exact opposite. What you really need to do is to get through all of that nonsense and figure out how to get the rail going.”

Those who are committed to stopping rail aren’t letting up.

Panos Prevedouros, who ran against Carlisle promising to kill rail, released a statement Thursday, writing, “Now the rail is all but dead and I will make sure that it is. I don’t think Peter Carlisle is well informed about rail.”

Prevedouros went on to detail allegations against the city, claiming construction has begun illegally along Farrington Highway.

Caldwell disputed those claims.

“Everything we’re doing, we’re getting permission to do from the FTA,” Caldwell said. “So these are all testing in anticipation of construction approval under the appropriate agencies and processes.”

Carlisle said he has known all along that, if elected, he would be tasked with oversight of the rail project. His priority now, he said, is to surround himself with a team of people who can best enable him to do so. He said he’ll likely announce additional leadership picks before his Oct. 8 swearing in.

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