WASHINGTON — Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle looked like he had seen a ghost.
HART board Chairwoman Carrie Okinaga actually winced, like she was nauseated or maybe about to cry.
It’s safe to say that the duo, along with HART interim executive director Toru Hamayasu, were not expecting to run into Civil Beat in one of the ornate hallways of the U.S. Capitol on Thursday afternoon.
It’s not that they didn’t know we wanted an interview.
We made repeated requests. Multiple spokeswomen repeatedly turned us down. We emailed Hamayasu directly. He didn’t write back.
A spokeswoman for rail and a spokeswoman for the mayor told us that Hamayasu and Carlisle knew Civil Beat wanted to hear about their meeting with the Federal Transportation Administration in Washington on Thursday. No guarantees, the spokeswomen said separately, but they might — maybe, possibly, but definitely not definitely — call us for a very brief phone interview after the meeting.
So we figured out where they would be, and we waited for them. And when Carlisle noticed us, he did a double take. He said he was “shocked” to see Civil Beat, and acknowledged with a laugh that the group had gone “deep undercover” on the short trip to D.C.
Right. We noticed.
So how was the meeting? Okinaga didn’t want to talk about it. We kept asking. She kept wincing.
“Let us get together and talk about it,” she said, referring to her traveling companions. “We haven’t had a chance. We’ve been going from meeting to meeting.”
Carlisle — the man who long touted the separation of rail from city politics with the July 1 creation of HART — came to Okinaga’s rescue. The mayor readily answered basic questions about the FTA meeting.
Carlisle said it was “instructive,” and that the federal government remained committed to moving the project forward. He said that he reiterated to federal officials that rail opposition in Honolulu is noisy but inconsequential.
“We assured everybody who asked that despite vocal opposition, this project will be done and we are moving forward,” Carlisle said.
He dismissed any possible delays or snafus, and said the city remains on track to enter into final design. That’s a necessary phase for negotiating the ever-coveted Full Funding Grant Agreement, which would guarantee $1.55 billion in federal money to the city. Carlisle called the meeting instructive, but when asked for specifics, he said that the FTA didn’t outline any specific instructions.
“We talked in more general terms than that but obviously the circumstances are such that we want to be sure we’re doing everything correctly,” Carlisle said. “(We) want to make absolutely positive that this is the best way to get us to the Full Funding Grant Agreement.”
We trailed the group for just over nine minutes — walked briskly with them from outside of one of Sen. Daniel Inouye‘s offices in the U.S. Capitol building to the door of another one of his offices in a separate building — and barely scratched the surface of the questions we had.
With HART past its two-month mark, Okinaga still appears to be acting more like the tight-lipped chief city lawyer she used to be than the chair of a public entity with a $21 million budget responsible for overseeing a $5.3 billion publicly funded project.
Here’s an audio clip and transcript of our limited interaction with Carlisle, Okinaga and Hamayasu in Washington on Thursday. Also walking with the group was a staffer with Inouye’s office and an attorney with the Washington-based lobbying powerhouse Williams & Jensen.
Carlisle: [Having spotted Civil Beat] You look familiar! [Okinaga and Hamayasu remain silent]
Civil Beat: I’m wondering if I can ask you some questions as we walk?
Carlisle: [Carlisle looks at Civil Beat looking at Okinaga] Who, her?
Civil Beat: She is the public face of rail.
Okinaga: Let us finish. We just got through one series of meetings.
Civil Beat: Where are you headed now?
Okinaga: I’m not sure.
Civil Beat: OK, well, I’ll just tag along as you’re walking from one place to the next.
Okinaga: OK, we’ll just make sure security knows.
Civil Beat: I can go anywhere in the building.
Okinaga: OK, OK. How are you?
Civil Beat: Good. Tell me about the meeting with the FTA.
Okinaga: No. Let us get together and talk about it. We haven’t had a chance. We’ve been going from meeting to meeting.
Civil Beat: You just met with Sen. Inouye?
Okinaga: We just met with the senator.
[The group packs into a small elevator. Civil Beat squeezes in.]
Civil Beat: So where are you heading now?
Staffer from Inouye’s office: I’m heading back to the office.
Civil Beat: And you guys have another meeting?
Okinaga: Yeah, just to talk story. We haven’t been able to.
[The group walks toward, then boards, an underground tram that connects different buildings in the U.S. Capitol complex.]
Carlisle: So how is D.C.? Do you like being here?
Civil Beat: Good. The weather is not as good.
Carlisle: You came from a slightly more hospitable climate.
Civil Beat: But I like it. It’s nice to have someone focusing on Hawaii here. There are no other reporters here who are, so it’s a big job.
Carlisle: Did you know I did an editorial board with you guys?
Civil Beat: I did. We got some great photos of you. Thank you for doing that.
Carlisle: There are photos? I didn’t see that. Do I look like a human?
Civil Beat: Yes, they’re good. So, how was the meeting with the FTA?
Civil Beat: The next step is entering into final design.
Civil Beat: Is it looking like the timeline remains the same for that?
Carlisle: Actually, the timeline isn’t completely set in stone but we’re optimistic that we’re moving in the right direction and we’ve got a commitment to keep on moving in that direction, and moving us forward, which is good. We’re glad to hear that from (FTA) Administrator Rogoff.
Civil Beat: Did they give you a point-by-point on what you need to change or do?
Carlisle: We talked in more general terms than that but obviously the circumstances are such that we want to be sure we’re doing everything correctly. Want to make absolutely positive that this is the best way to get us to the Full Funding Grant Agreement.
Civil Beat: I understand one of the purposes of this trip was to introduce the FTA to Carrie as someone who’s leading HART?
Carlisle: Absolutely. I think that essentially the independence of HART is something that impresses them. That’s how I take it. Now, that wasn’t something that was said to me. We were all extremely happy to have her here.
Civil Beat: I’m going to take photos. Trying to multi-task while I’m following you guys. My work was cut out for me, trying to find you.
Carlisle: We went deep undercover on this one.
Civil Beat: Yeah, I know!
Carlisle: We were shocked.
Civil Beat: You guys knew I’d find you. Come on.
Carlisle: Well we didn’t think you’d be able to find us in there, so you did well. You’ve got to be proud of yourself.
Civil Beat: So I understand you’ve been in back-to-back meetings. You leave tomorrow morning?
Carlisle: I leave at 5 o’clock in the morning. So for me, it’s one day of work from morning to night, and it’s not all rail. I was also discussing significant aspects of the film industry in Honolulu with NBC Universal and Comcast.
Civil Beat: And you just briefed the senator on what you learned from Administrator Rogoff?
Carlisle: And took his advice as well… The thing that was most stressed by the senator, from one end to the other, was how much he thinks this is going to help the everyday lives of people of Honolulu. I mean, plain and simple. He described this as good for everyone. I agree with him. It’s encouraging to have a man of his stature and experience to be that devoted to this project. He is unequivocally all in.
Civil Beat: So, Toru, I have to ask because you’ve been through this every step of the way. You’ve been to a series of these meetings with the FTA. Do you remain confident? What’s your mood after this meeting today?
Hamayasu: If I’m not confident about this then I wouldn’t be here, right? So, yeah, every step is moving forward. We’re always talking about how to keep moving forward.
[The group exits the tram, walks toward more elevators.]
Carlisle: We assured everybody who asked that despite vocal opposition, this project will be done and we are moving forward.
Civil Beat: OK. I’m going to try to get Carrie. I don’t know if she realizes she’s a public official yet.
Civil Beat: Carrie, could we chat for a moment?
Okinaga: No, I’d really prefer—
Civil Beat: I know you’re not used to dealing with reporters but you’re going to have to.
Okinaga: No, no, that’s fine.
Civil Beat: As HART’s representative, talk to me about this trip, so people understand its purpose from your perspective.
Okinaga: OK, so the purpose of it was to make sure that the FTA — who’s a major partner in all of this — understand that the board is organized and that we’re on the same page in terms of our support for the project, and to do that in person. That was very important. I specifically wanted to make sure that this channel was open for the board, on behalf of the board, as opposed to full council and all the other, that was very important.
Civil Beat: What specific questions did you have (for the FTA)?
Okinaga: Honestly, I wanted to just establish this line of communication and make sure that they understand how committed we are. We’ve been meeting every week. Has (Civil Beat reporter) Mike (Levine) been telling you?
Civil Beat: Yes! Today, too. I’ve been following the live blog.
Okinaga: Oh, yeah? He has things up?
Civil Beat: Of course.
Okinaga: Oh my gosh. Oh wow. See? We’re hearing more from home (laughs).
Okinaga: The finance budget oversight committee meeting.
[The group exits the elevator a couple hundred yards away from another one of Sen. Inouye’s offices.]
Civil Beat: I’d like to take a photo of the three of you together.
Civil Beat: It might show you’re not afraid of reporters or the public.
Carlisle: I’m OK with that. No harm in taking a picture.
[Civil Beat takes the photo that appears with this article]
Civil Beat: I was telling (rail spokeswoman) Jeanne (Mariani-Belding) that I wanted to take a Metro ride with you guys.
Carlisle: I want you to write that every one of us rode the Metro while we were here. Every one of us.
Civil Beat: How was it?
Carlisle: It’s like it was fantastic.
Civil Beat: Did you ride on any AnsaldoBreda cars?
Carlisle: I didn’t ask.
Hamayasu: Yup. The first batch.
Carlisle: Really? Oh no kidding.
Civil Beat: Did they run well?
Hamayasu: Of course.
Civil Beat (to Carlisle): Who is this gentleman with you?
Carlisle: He’s working with us on the project.
Civil Beat: Is he an attorney?
Civil Beat: International man of mystery?
Carlisle: You have to ask him.
Civil Beat, catching up with man walking ahead of the group: Hi, sir. I’m Adrienne LaFrance with Civil Beat. What’s your name?
Denis1 Dwyer: My name is Denis Dwyer.
Civil Beat: Can you tell me about what your role is here?
Dwyer: I can’t because my contract says you have to talk to the city about it.
Civil Beat: Is it a lobbying thing?
Dwyer: Sort of. More advisory than that.
Civil Beat: What company do you work for?
Dwyer: Again, I can’t tell you that.
Civil Beat: OK, well, I have Google for that.
(And, yes, we found him online. Dwyer specializes in “federal funding accomplishments” in areas like infrastructure and transportation. Here’s the link to his bio with Washington lobbying firm Williams & Jensen.)
A spokesman for the FTA told Civil Beat earlier this week that officials would have no public comment to make about their meeting with Honolulu officials.