WASHINGTON — Five Honolulu City Council members and both of Hawaii’s U.S. senators celebrated the Honolulu rail project‘s progress at an upscale French bistro near Capitol Hill on Tuesday evening.

The officials were part of a group of about 40 people attending the private reception, which was hosted by the Honolulu-based carpenters union advocacy group Pacific Resource Partnership.

Guests included city staffers, Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation board members, development executives, as well as environmental and nonprofit leaders.

“You know, as I walked in here, I looked around and said, ‘Who is there (left) in Honolulu?'” Sen. Daniel Akaka joked when he greeted the crowd.

The mood was buoyant, arguably even more so than at the festive rail groundbreaking that attracted hundreds of project supporters in Kapolei in February.

Pacific Resource Partnership’s executive director, John White, told Civil Beat that it paid about $1,500 to rent a small room and provide wine, beer and hors d’oeuvres. White said the partnership paid a total of about $40,000 to bring 18 Hawaii officials and residents to Washington for the annual national rail conference known as Railvolution.

Some of the attendees at the Bistro Bis reception included:

• Sen. Daniel K. Inouye
• Sen. Daniel Akaka
• Honolulu City Council Chairman Ernie Martin
• Honolulu City Council Vice Chairman Ikaika Anderson
• Honolulu City Council member Breene Harimoto
• Honolulu City Council member Ann Kobayashi
• Honolulu City Council member Romy Cachola
• Keslie Hui, board member for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART)
• Ivan Lui-Kwan, vice chair of HART
• Joyce Oliveira, government relations staffer for HART
• Terrance Ware, Honolulu’s manager of transit oriented development
• Denis Dwyer, rail lobbyist with Washington-based firm Williams & Jensen
• Linda Schatz, real estate analyst for Kamehameha Schools
• Walter Thoemmes, Kamehameha Schools chief of staff
• Catherine Camp, development director for Kamehameha Schools
• Bill Kaneko, president of the Hawaii Institute for Public Affairs (HIPA)
• Barbara Kim Stanton, executive director of AARP Hawaii
• Jiro Sunada, deputy director of the Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting
• Bob Nakata, a pastor at Kahaluu United Methodist Church and president of Oahu’s Faith Action for Community Equity
• Mike Kido, external affairs strategist for Pacific Resource Partnership
• John White, executive director for Pacific Resource Partnership

The fact that the diverse group of attendees included Kobayashi, who has publicly challenged the project and its planners, added to the celebratory vibe. The city’s deputy managing director, Chrystn Eads, told Civil Beat that she has noticed a “very positive” shift.

“To have the council members coming here,” Eads said. “It means that rail is moving forward, and we are doing it. There are still those naysayers out there who would like to stop it. To me, that’s a great sign that so many of them came here to do this.”

When Civil Beat asked Kobayashi if her participation could be seen as an indication that she now sees rail as inevitable, Kobayashi nodded then shrugged.

“I’m still very cautious,” she said. “I’m trying to be positive about it all, and I’m excited about the transit oriented development. Except I don’t want to burden the taxpayer if we don’t have enough money. That’s always my worry.”

Inouye told attendees that he could “guarantee” that federal money for the project would come through. Honolulu is seeking $1.55 billon in federal funding to build the $5.2 billion rail line.

The senior senator also told the group that such a reception would have been “impossible” one year ago, a time when he said rail stakeholders were not as united and the project faced serious problems. Specifically, he mentioned concerns that the Federal Transit Administration had raised about how the city characterized funding for TheBus in its financial plan for the rail system.

Inouye told Civil Beat that he credits the Carlisle administration and the Martin-led City Council for working together to alleviate the FTA’s concerns.

“When that happened, I think everyone got the signal,” Inouye said in an interview as he exited the reception. “If they had not worked together, that bus situation could not have been resolved. That could have killed the project.”

Martin told Civil Beat that he met with Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff when he arrived in D.C. for the conference.

“Peter Rogoff wanted some reassurance that the city was very confident in moving forward, that the council was working very closely with the mayor and HART to ensure we’re moving forward,” Martin said of the meeting. “He left that meeting with the level of reassurance that he had sought.”

Later, before the entire crowd, Martin put it more simply: “We’re in a good place. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Follow the latest Hawaii news from Civil Beat’s Washington Bureau at DC808.

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