UPDATED 5/11/12 8:30 a.m.

After Civil Beat published an article Tuesday examining how U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye stays in touch with Hawaii, I received an email from former Gov. Ben Cayetano.

Cayetano, a candidate for Honolulu mayor, elaborated on his remarks at a mayoral debate last week about Inouye being “out of touch.”

He also forwarded to me the Jan. 6 email he sent to Inouye outlining his opposition to rail. The email and the three attached renderings are reproduced at the end of this article.

What led to our exchange?

Cayetano’s characterization of Inouye touched off a political firestorm. The senator’s staff fumed that his remarks weren’t worth a response. Pro-rail factions set up a new website, BeNiceBen.com, in defense of Inouye. Political cartoons abound.

We wondered if Cayetano didn’t have a point. My story, “Is Dan Inouye Out of Touch,” reviewed Inouye’s schedule and press coverage for the past few months to see what his interaction with Hawaii had been. It also delved into the earlier effort Cayetano had made to discuss rail with Inouye.

In his May 9 email to me, Cayetano said, “Besides some grammatical errors, the only thing I regret about my email to Inouye is that I sounded a bit too apologetic in differing with him.”

He continued: “To set the record straight, I did not say Inouye was out of touch in general. As you pointed out, he is in fact very much in touch with the public on many issues on which everyone seems to agree with him — but not about the rail project which we know from recent polls the majority of the people do not.”

Cayetano also reiterated a primary point — “From my point of view, Inouye’s public statements about rail are based on information he has been getting from the FTA and the City” — and offered this support:

For example, on more than one occasion, Inouye said that rail would reduce traffic congestion. He was not alone in believing this, a poll by the Honolulu Advertiser showed that 73% of the public believed it also. Well, we know now that both the City and the FTA admit that it will not. In fact, based on the data in the FEIS, city officials knew this even as Inouye was saying it.  And we know today from the Star Advertiser and Civil Beat polls that the tide of public opinion has turned against rail — and now a majority of the public also believe rail will not reduce traffic congestion.

Cayetano also repeated his respect for Inouye — “for the many good things he has done for the state.” But, he said, “there is a huge difference between respecting someone and deferring to him.”

The Jan. 6 email from the governor to the senator is personal — “Vicky joins me in wishing you and Irene a Great 2012!” — and respectful — “I have always supported you and I have not forgotten your helping me in my 1976 reelection to the State House.”

It also makes clear that Cayetano differs with Inouye over the Honolulu rail project.

He raises four points: that the project will be more expensive than commonly estimated, that it will be physically a turn off to tourists and will disturb burial sites, that other cities comparable to Honolulu in size are not pursuing heavy rail and that Oahu’s population was not large enough to pay for both rail and sewer and water system upgrades.

“Someone asked me why I would want to be mayor after serving two terms as governor,” Cayetano wrote Inouye. “Well, titles don’t mean much to me — doing what I think is in the public’s best interests does.”

Inouye deputy chief of staff Peter Boylan said Inouye did not receive the renderings, and Boylan acknowledged to Civil Beat that server challenges may have prevented their delivery.

Reached Thursday, Boylan was asked whether the senator ever responded to the governor, as Cayetano said he never heard back. Boylan declined to comment.1

  1. An earlier version of this article said Boylan did not respond to Civil Beat’s question. Friday morning, after the article had already been published, Boylan asked us to report that he declined comment.

Cayetano’s Email to Inouye

Dear Dan,

I was hoping to tell you personally that I will announce my candidacy for Mayor next week. I have always supported you and I have not forgotten your helping me in my 1976 reelection to the State House (I still have that photo you gave me with its wonderful message) and every one of my elections thereafter. Sadly, I differ with you on the rail project proposed by the City for the following reasons.

(1) I will not bother you with arguments about costs except to note that two studies, one by the state and the other by the Federal Transit Administration itself concluded that the construction costs are likely to reach $7 billion rather than $5.3 billion.

(2) Moreover, it is difficult to understand why in a state that relies so heavily on tourism, the City wants to build
an elevated, heavy rail project, 35-60 feet high across its waterfront, disturbing ancient burial grounds and historical sites. I have attached renderings drawn to scale by the Hawaii Chapter of the American Institute of Architects which opposes the elevated rail project for your perusal.

(3) There is no other city in the nation with a metropolitan area comparable to Honolulu’s that has or is contemplating building a rail system like the City’s. Most are considering dedicate bus lanes, light rail, managed lanes and other less costly alternatives.

(4) There are only 900,000 residents who live on Oahu. That is an awfully small tax base to pay for a  $3.5 billion EPA mandated sewer upgrade (in addition to regular maintenance), another billion or so to upgrade the City’s water system — which, I was told by Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi and Council Chairman Ernie Martin — experiences a broken water main every day — and a $3.8 of a $5.3 billion elevated, heavy rail project.

Someone asked me why I would want to be mayor after serving two terms as governor. Well, titles don’t mean much to me — doing what I think is in the public’s best interests does.

Thank you for reading this. Vicky joins me in wishing you and Irene a Great 2012!

With much aloha,

Ben Cayetano

Cayetano Rail Renderings

Rendering of Waipahu without heavy rail.

Rendering of Waipahu with heavy rail.

Rendering of downtown Bishop Street elevated rail station.

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